An official of the Hamas-led Palestinian government says the Islamic group has agreed to withdraw its militia from public view in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Wednesday the group agreed to move its militia away from major roads and public places in a bid to ease tensions in Gaza.

Hamas took office after elections in January. Friction between it and the Fatah faction has led to clashes that have left at least 16 people dead.

The Hamas decision to redeploy comes as tensions between the two groups continue to escalate.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, has given Hamas until the end of the week to agree to a statehood plan that recognizes Israel. If Hamas does not agree, Mr. Abbas says he will schedule a referendum on the matter.

A spokesman for Mr. Abbas said Wednesday he will issue a decree Saturday on the referendum if Hamas does not agree to the statehood plan.

Hamas does not accept Israel's right to exist.

The Hamas-led Palestinian government missed Mr. Abbas's initial deadline for accepting the plan, which was written by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It calls for a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel.

Hamas has said it will not to bow to international pressure and recognize the Jewish state. Western nations have suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority as a result, fueling a humanitarian crisis in the territories.

A poll released on Tuesday indicates 77 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.