Relatively optimistic assessments could be heard for the first time last night at General Staff headquarters regarding the Palestinian Authority's readiness to take steps to stop the Qassam rocket fire in the Gaza Strip.

The harsh tone Mahmoud Abbas took in his latest talks in the Strip, the steps on the ground by the PA's security services and then the fact that no rockets were fired at Sderot yesterday all helped inspire hopes in Israel that maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of change.

These signs spurred two Israeli moves: the cabinet decision, which gave conditional authorization to an IDF operation in the Strip, but put it on hold until Abbas' intentions become clear, and the security coordination meeting with the PA, which took place last night at the Erez checkpoint.

The IDF was largely impressed by Abbas' statements, in public declarations and private conversations. The PA chairman conveyed a categorical message regarding the need to stop terrorism, demanded that his people act and that Hamas cease its activity. Police deployed in Gaza Strip cities yesterday to prevent movement of people bearing unauthorized weapons, while the PA requested that Israel permit police into the Qassam launching pads in the northern Strip.

Additionally, the PA appears this time to be conducting a relatively energetic investigation into locating the people behind the Karni crossing attack.

All of these are encouraging signs, yet Israel may still be over-hasty in admiring the good intentions of the new Palestinian regime, before they have been tested in practice (the praise for the PA may also be designed to counter complaints that the government and army are refraining from reprisals, despite casualties in Sderot and Gush Katif).

The central question remaining is how Hamas will respond to the PA's moves. In recent weeks Hamas has been leading a particularly widespread terror campaign in the Strip, frequently with the help of various Fatah factions.

IDF Southern Command has counted, four weeks running, some 100 attacks per week in the Strip, nearly double the previous average. Each week nearly 50 Qassam and mortar volleys are registered in the Strip and western Negev. That, ultimately, is the greatest challenge facing Abbas, particularly since Hamas terror networks in the West Bank have also been showing signs of revival.

In an operation that relied on long-term intelligence gathering, special forces arrested 13 Hamas members in a raid on Nablus yesterday. It's thought the network, directed by headquarters in Damascus, was planning to carry out suicide bombings in Israel shortly.

If the time-out grated to Abbas continues, the IDF will make do with what is does anyway in the Strip: a series of operations, code-named Wave Breaker, for localized targeting of Qassam and mortar networks. At the same time, Israel is investing quite a bit in psychological warfare. The IDF posted large Arabic signs on the Karni and Erez crossings announcing their closure "because of Hamas," and air-dropped a quarter of a million flyers conveying a similar message.

Yesterday's encouraging signs could, however, have another explanation: the beginning of Id al-Adha, (Feast of the Sacrifice) which the populace would like to pass peacefully.