Tensions are rising in the Gaza Strip after the Islamic militant group Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian Authority eight weeks ago, redeployed a controversial militia. Hamas has also rejected a presidential ultimatum to accept a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict.
Hamas sent its private militia back into the streets of Gaza, a day after withdrawing it in a bid to ease tensions with the rival Fatah faction. The deployment of the 3,000-member force nine days ago sparked gun battles and assassination attempts, deepening a power struggle that has raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.
Youssef Zahar, a spokesman for the Hamas militia, denied charges by Fatah that redeploying the force is a provocation.
"We are not looking for the reasons, we are not looking for anything. As a police force, we [are] working neutrally, and according to the order from the minister," he said.
The force was deployed as Hamas rejected a deadline set by moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept the concept of a two state solution, meaning a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Mr. Abbas said that, if Hamas does not accept the internationally recognized formula within 10 days, he would call a referendum 40 days after that.
But Hamas official Abdallah Abdallah said the government does not accept ultimatums that could prejudice the outcome of a "national dialogue" between the two factions.
"It was understood that the president maybe put that as a condition, or a precondition on the dialogue, and this is where the problem came out," he said.
Mr. Abbas believes a referendum, in which a majority is expected to approve the two-state idea, could enable Hamas to moderate its views, without directly recognizing Israel. That, in turn, could help end the international sanctions that have crippled the Hamas government and the Palestinian economy.
But a two-state solution directly contradicts Hamas' ideology. The group says it has no intention of amending its charter calling for the destruction of Israel.