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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Hamas force leaves Gaza streets
Members of pro-Hamas paramilitary force take cover during gunfight in Gaza
Tensions in the streets of Gaza have erupted into armed clashes
A paramilitary security force deployed by the ruling Palestinian party Hamas has withdrawn from the streets of Gaza.

The force has been involved in clashes with regular police and military units since its deployment 10 days ago.

Several people have been killed in the clashes, amid mounting tension between Hamas supporters and security men loyal to the former ruling party, Fatah.

Regular police and military units have now taken the place of the Hamas forces on the streets of Gaza City.

The Hamas government says the withdrawal is aimed at reducing this tension. It said it was implementing agreements made with Fatah that are intended to calm the situation.

The force is not being disbanded, Hamas government officials say, but will be incorporated into the regular police.

Less visible

BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston say it is clear that the Hamas militia will now be a much less visible presence and this should significantly ease the tension here.

Hamas deployed the 3,000-strong force, which included members of other militant groups and some regular troops, to tackle a crisis of insecurity and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip.

The move triggered a serious deterioration in relations with Fatah, which the two sides are trying to remedy at a continuing conference for national unity.

On Thursday, the first day of the conference, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would call a referendum on the borders of a Palestinian state, if rival factions could agree a political programme.

Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in January, the first time it stood for office in the national political arena.

Hear more analysis on consequences of withdrawal

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