Palestinian tensions mount as Fatah deploys new militia force

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The paramilitary force, recruited in what amounts to a show of force against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, wore black T-shirts with "Special Protection Unit" printed on the back and a photo of the late Yasser Arafat on the front.

The force was being portrayed as a response to the decision this month by the Interior Minister, Said Siyam, to deploy 3,000 men, many of them Hamas militants, in Gaza to "support" the Fatah-dominated police. Most members of the Jenin force were unarmed, but more than 100 carried assault rifles or pistols.

The move risks spreading factional infighting - which has already claimed 11 lives this month - from Gaza to the West Bank. In the latest attack, a member of Hamas's military wing was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Gaza yesterday.

The moves come on the eve of a deadline imposed by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to secure Hamas's agreement to a document accepting a two-state solution in principle.