Tentative Deal Is Reached To Halt Fighting in Gaza

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 26, 2006

JERUSALEM, Nov. 26 -- The Israeli government agreed late Saturday to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a pledge by Palestinian armed groups to stop firing rockets into southern Israel, a tentative deal that leaders on both sides said could end months of violence in and around the Palestinian enclave.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, outlined the terms of a possible cease-fire in a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, according to Olmert's aides. The proposal called for an end to the frequent Palestinian rocket fire that has killed two Israelis this month, suicide bombings inside Gaza against Israeli soldiers and the digging of tunnels used for smuggling money and weapons into the strip from neighboring Egypt.

Olmert's aides said the prime minister pledged in return to cease military operations in Gaza -- more than 250 Palestinians, most of them gunmen, have been killed since late June -- effective 6 a.m. Sunday. Israeli forces would begin withdrawing soon after from northern Gaza, where they have been operating for several weeks, if terms of the truce hold. [The Israeli military said early Sunday that it had withdrawn all of its forces from Gaza.]

Israeli and Palestinian officials warned that the next few days would determine the durability of the cease-fire, which does not extend to the West Bank. Similar agreements have been announced since Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza 14 months ago, only to collapse within hours. [There were reports of at least one rocket falling inside Israel after the cease-fire took effect, without reports of injuries.]

"It holds the potential for stability and quiet for both sides," said Miri Eisin, an Olmert spokeswoman. "Israel in that sense is hopeful."

Abbas, who has been working to assemble a national unity government with the rival Hamas movement, told Olmert he received pledges to abide by the agreement from the armed groups at war with the Jewish state. His spokesman, Nabil Aburdeineh, outlined the deal to reporters in Gaza late Saturday.

Officials from the military wing of Hamas, the radical Islamic movement in control of the Palestinian Authority's ministries, suggested they would adhere to the terms only if Israel pulls back from Gaza. The radical Islamic Jihad said it would study the agreement before endorsing it.

"Hamas will remain with the Palestinians' interests," said Khalil Abu Leila, a Hamas political leader. "But if the Israelis violate this initial agreement, there will be no truce at all."

Two Israeli airstrikes earlier Saturday on cars in northern Gaza killed at least three Hamas gunmen and wounded several others, while at least one Palestinian rocket landed in the Israeli town of Sderot. No injuries were reported.

Eisin said Abbas and Olmert agreed to talk in the days ahead about how to extend the truce to the West Bank if it holds in Gaza.

"We'll wait and see what happens tomorrow," Eisin said.

Special correspondent Islam Abdelkareem in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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