Palestinian president wants to establish Palestinian state alongside Israel; Russia backs idea

Abbas, of the Fatah party, is eager to restart long-stalled peace talks with Israel, whose destruction is sought by the militant Hamas group that now governs the Palestinian Authority.

On Saturday, Abbas announces a late-July date for the national plebiscite. Hamas, which has rejected international pressure to foreswear violence and accept Israel's right to exist, opposes the referendum, and says it will divide the Palestinian people.

Opinion polls show the referendum and the two-state proposal enjoy widespread support, the AP reports.

Russia is seeking to boost its role in the Middle East peace process. It insists that Hamas should not be isolated and hosted a high-level Hamas delegation earlier this year.

The decision provoked anger in Israel and surprise among the other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace mediators that also includes the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, but Moscow made no visible headway in persuading Hamas to soften its stance.