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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday harshly criticized the Islamic Hamas movement for seizing control in the Gaza Strip last week, and branded its members as "murderous terrorists" who carried out a "coup."

Speaking Wednesday in a televised address to the Palestinian people, Abbas accused Hamas of attacking national symbols during its takeover of Gaza.

Over the weekend, Abbas set up the new West Bank-based government after dissolving the coalition between Hamas and his own Fatah movement following the Hamas' armed takeover of Gaza.

Abbas said Hamas had replaced the national project with its project of darkness, attacking the symbols of government in Gaza, including the house of the late leader Yasser Arafat.

"There is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists," Abbas said.

Abbas accused Hamas of trying to set up its own state in Gaza alone, a step he said would scuttle Palestinian hopes for independence. He said he had "tried to prevent the conflict through continuous dialogue. Instead, we are seeing assassination of leaders of Palestinian security and Fatah in Gaza."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri hotly rejected Abbas' statements. "What he said was disgusting and not appropriate for the Palestinian president," the Hamas official said. "The president [Abbas] has harmed himself with his words."

Last week, in a lighting military-style operation, Hamas militias routed the numerically superior Fatah security forces and took over their bases, leaving Abbas' Fatah in control of the West Bank.

Abbas said the conflict continues. "It's a fight between the national project and this small kingdom they want to establish in Gaza, the kingdom of Gaza, between those who are using assassination and killing to achieve their goals, and those who are using the rules of law."

Abbas accused Hamas of trying to assassinate him when he planned a visit to Gaza a month ago, digging a tunnel under a road where his car was to pass and trying to fill it with 250 kilograms of explosives. He said he received videotapes of the operation, showing militants with Hamas signs on their shirts carrying out the work. He dismissed Hamas claims that the explosives tunnel was aimed at Israelis.

"I have sent these tapes to all the Arab countries, to show how much this dark movement is acting," he said. He also sent the tape to Hamas' Syrian-based political leader Khaled Meshal, to illustrate Hamas intentions.

He repeated his earlier declaration that the Hamas militia in Gaza is now illegal and warned Israel not to take advantage of the Gaza situation to tighten its control of the West Bank.

Earlier Wednesday, Abbas convened the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) ruling body, in a move aimed at boosting support for his newly formed emergency cabinet.

"The aim of today's meeting is to topple the coup plotters in Gaza," council member Ahmed Abdel Rahman of Fatah told reporters before the Wednesday session began, referring to Hamas.

The 129-strong Palestine Central Council, dominated by Fatah, was also expected to express support for the new government during its two-day session in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian officials said. Some Hamas officials are technically entitled to sit on the PCC but it seemed unlikely many would attend.

"One of the main issues of discussion will be to reiterate the legitimacy of the decisions taken by President Abbas with regard to the bloody coup by Hamas," said Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the council.

Another PCC member said the body would also debate the possibility of moving up the election for PA chairman, in addition to a parliamentary poll now scheduled for 2010.

It was the Central Council that set up the Palestinian Authority for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, in a 1993 decision taken at Tunis, where PLO leaders including the late Yasser Arafat were once based. Many of its members still live in exile.

Riyad al-Malki, information minister in the new cabinet, said Abbas would announce policy steps aimed at further distancing his government from the former government Hamas still says that it heads.

One of these steps would be the issuing of new Palestinian passports from the West Bank city of Ramallah from July, invalidating the current travel documents, Malki said. He said the step was taken after the passport office in Gaza was vandalized and "destroyed" Wednesday.

All citizens will be required to change their travel documents to papers issued in the West Bank - in effect invalidating documents previously issued in Gaza, al-Malki said.

He also said that the new government has annulled all decisions made by the previous Hamas government, and that security personnel would be deployed in force in the West Bank to restore law and order.

Hamas calls for new governmentMeanwhile, a senior exiled Hamas leader called Wednesday for the formation of a new Palestinian goverment made up of independent technocrats without Fatah or Hamas members as a way out of the crisis sparked by the Hamas takeover.

The new government's members are all independents, but Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk appeared to be calling for a new one, formed in consultation with the militant group.

"All possibilities are open now. We can reach a consensus on a government - a technocrat government - that includes neither Fatah nor Hamas," said Abu Marzouk, the Damascus-based deputy head of Hamas' political bureau.

"The government could not work without a Palestinian consensus, especially between Fatah and Hamas," he said.

Abbas has rejected talks with Hamas since the Gaza takeover, while Hamas has called his government illegal. The international community has embraced Abbas, while shunning Hamas.

Abu Marzouk criticized what he said were moves by Abbas to move all ministries to the West Bank.

"This shows that there is a plot being carried out by some Palestinians in an irresponsible and unprecedented way to separate Gaza from the West Bank," he said.

He said Hamas welcomes any Arab initiative to try and resolve the current Palestinian crisis.

Army of Islam: We will release details of assassinations by HamasThe Army of Islam - the organization holding kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston - announced Wednesday that it intends to release information about the group's past collaborations with Hamas, including details of assassinations of senior Palestinian officials that Hamas was involved in.