Hamas militia returns to streets of Gaza

The Hamas-led government's private militia returned to the streets of Gaza on Saturday after a one-day absence, complicating efforts to end an increasingly bloody standoff with President Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah movement.

Although the force was out in limited numbers, angry Fatah officials said the move risked setting off more violence and accused Hamas of using the militia as a bargaining chip in the stalemate with Abbas.

Abbas has issued an ultimatum to Hamas calling on the group to accept a plan by next week accepting a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Hamas officials signaled Saturday they would not honor the deadline. The plan would effectively require Hamas to recognize the Jewish state, something it refuses to do.

The 3,000-strong Hamas militia has been at the center of the Palestinian infighting. Hamas' decision to withdraw the black-clad gunmen from public areas Friday was widely seen as a conciliatory gesture. But early Saturday, the militia was back on the streets, albeit in much smaller numbers than earlier in the week.

The forces were stationed in pairs at several major intersections and near the homes of senior Hamas government officials. The situation appeared to be calm, and in some instances, Hamas gunmen chatted freely with regular policemen.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said there were no plans to send the militia out in full force. Instead, Hamas-run Interior Ministry will deploy the force only in specific cases. "There will not be any friction," he said.

Fatah officials, however, reacted angrily. Several hundred militants from a Fatah-linked militia demonstrated outside the parliament building in Gaza City, demanding the Hamas militia be disbanded and calling on the group to accept Abbas' plan, reports AP.

O.Ch.