updated 7/31/2008 4:18:02 PM ET 2008-07-31T20:18:02

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered the release of all Hamas activists detained in recent days by his security forces.

His office said the order came late Thursday from Tunis, Tunisia, where the Palestinian leader is holding talks.

Abbas' Fatah security forces arrested about 200 Hamas members over the last week. That was a response to a roundup of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip after an explosion there killed five Hamas militants.

The release of the Hamas detainees is seen as part of efforts by Abbas to cool the bitter rivalry between Fatah and Hamas. Tension has been high since Hamas seized control of Gaza last year.

Meanwhile, Hamas said 44 more of its members were arrested in the Hamas stronghold of Nablus, including Mohammed Ghazal, one of its senior leaders. Fatah countered that only 13 were arrested and said that the roundup is of criminal nature rather than political.

It was unclear whether the order for release included those in the most recent sweep.

The crackdown came after a mysterious explosion that killed five Hamas members and a 6-year-old girl. Hamas blames Fatah for the blast. Fatah denied the charge

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah security forces last year, leaving Fatah ruling only the West Bank. Each group has arrested its rivals by the hundreds since.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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