BELFAST,, Northern Ireland, Feb. 5 -- Extra troops were ordered onto the streets of North Belfast Monday as police sought to halt escalating pipe bomb attacks on Catholic families in the city.

The move came amid talks aiming to shore up a fragile peace in Northern Ireland, and adds to the pressure on all sides to reach a deal.

Alan McQuillan, assistant chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, said Monday he had requested troops to patrol with his police officers but did not reveal how many soldiers would be involved.

Explaining the move, McQuillan, said he feared loss of life if the attacks continued. He said: "These are sectarian attacks and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent them and arrest those responsible.

"We are asking the military to provide additional support to assist us in covering as wide an area as possible.

Patrols have been progressively scaled down in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday peace deal was signed in April 1998 and the main paramilitary groups declared a ceasefire.

Security chiefs are blaming gangs within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), one of the biggest armed Protestant groups, for over 30 bomb attacks in various parts of Northern Ireland since the start of the year.

There have been injuries, but as yet no fatalities.

"All these attacks are dangerous and these devices are potentially lethal, said McQuillan, adding that said the majority of the attacks have been linked to one UDA faction.

He said: "It's not directed by the UDA, but the UDA is fragmented, even more so than it has been in the past."

The UDA insists it is maintaining a ceasefire, but security chiefs say elements within the organization are trying to increase community tensions and provoke a Catholic retaliation.

Republican Catholics want to unite Northern Ireland with the southern republic, while Protestant loyalists are in favor of Britain maintaining its rule in the north.

The fear now is that republicans will hit back at a time when the peace process is deadlocked over the issues of paramilitary disarmament, scaling down the British army presence in the province, and reform of the Northern Ireland police force, which is predominantly Protestant.

Bombers came close to killing a Catholic family of five who escaped flames which swept through their home after it was hit with a pipe bomb in Belfast's New Lodge district on Saturday.

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