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In Gaza, Palestinians face two-front battle

Hamas denounces a referendum supported by President Abbas and ends its cease-fire with Israel.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's declaration over the weekend that he would hold an unprecedented referendum next month met monumental challenges Sunday when Hamas and Islamic Jihad soundly rejected plans for a popular vote.

They said that a prisoners' document that implied readiness to recognize Israel had been "misused" for political purposes.

The denunciation of Mr. Abbas's referendum plan comes amid spiraling violence in and around the Gaza Strip, with Israelis and Palestinians inflicting new fatalities and injuries on each other and raising the specter of a more heated conflict than the region has seen for several years.

Palestinians are expressing a mix of mourning and outrage after seven members of the same family were killed while enjoying a trip to the beach Friday, most probably by an Israeli army shell. Israel says the incident is under investigation and may not be the result of its own fire.

Two more Palestinians were killed in Israeli missile attacks early Sunday; Palestinians said they were Kassam rocket "activists" who had been martyred, while Israel said they were "terrorists." Also Sunday, a 60-year-old Israeli man was seriously wounded when one of the Kassam rockets, launched from the northern Gaza Strip, struck around Sderot.

The bloodshed provides a troubling backdrop to what is developing into a two-front battle.

Palestinians are facing a ratcheting up of a militant and increasingly mortal tit-for-tat with Israeli forces that has ballooned in the five months since the electoral rise of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

And at home, Palestinians are increasingly facing off against themselves, as Hamas and like-minded Islamic groups are veering toward a path radically different from the one that President Abbas is trying lead his people down as he stakes his political career on Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.


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