PM likely to present plans for diplomatic peace effort
IDF chief tells troops not to respond to Qassams; source: Factions considering extending truce to W. Bank.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to give a speech focusing on diplomatic issues Monday at the annual memorial service for prime minister David Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker in the Negev.
Olmert's bureau would not reveal any details of the contents of the address, but it may be assumed that following the cease-fire deal reached with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Olmert will present his plans and expectations for a diplomatic initiative with the Palestinians.
Government sources in Jerusalem said Sunday they believed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority this week as an expression of U.S. support for the Gaza cease-fire.
Rice is to arrive Wednesday with President George W. Bush in Jordan to take part in a conference on democracy and development called by King Abdullah, and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The original plan called for a trip to the region to focus on the Iraqi issue, but now it appears that Rice will be devoting time to Israel and the Palestinians as well.
Olmert said Sunday during a trip to the Negev, "The state of Israel is so strong that it can allow itself to hold back, to give a real chance to the cease-fire. After all, a cease-fire is not the supreme goal. It is only a stage in the process, which we hope will create the dynamic that will lead to negotiations and dialogue, and perhaps will finally bring about an agreement between us and the Palestinians."
An intermediary between Hamas and Fatah, Ziad Abu-Amar, told Haaretz the Palestinian factions would soon begin to discuss expanding the short-term cease-fire, or tahadiyeh, to the West Bank.
Abu Amar also said Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had asked the factions to "calm down" their activities in the West Bank, so as to allow a cease-fire agreement to be extended to that area as well. A spokesman for the Palestinian government, Razi Hamed, confirmed to Haaretz that the organizations do intend to examine this option.
IDF chief tells troops not to fire on Qassam crewsIsrael Defense Forces troops in the Gaza Strip received a direct order from Chief of Staff Dan Halutz on Sunday to avoid opening fire against any Qassam rocket crews.
Before the cease-fire actually went into effect Sunday, nine rockets were fired into Israel, and the IDF did not respond. Starting at 10 A.M. Sunday, all fire ceased. However, senior IDF officers later expressed criticism at the decision to accept the cease-fire agreement.
In army circles, and particularly at IDF Southern Command, there is a great deal of skepticism about the agreement. Senior officers have warned that without enforcement and an end to the smuggling of weapons through tunnels from Sinai to Rafah, the cease-fire is a dangerous development.
The officers maintain that Hamas is making enormous efforts to arm itself. They add that when the organization thinks it is ready, its members will resume the violence and then its military capabilities will pose a greater threat to IDF troops.
Senior security sources in Israel pointed out Sunday that leaders in militant groups spoke of a cease-fire only in terms of the Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, and did not commit themselves to stopping other forms of attacks in other parts of the territories.
PM: Cease-fire is not the supreme aimOlmert said Sunday during a visit in the Negev that "the State of Israel is so strong that it can allow itself some restraint in order to give a chance to a cease-fire."
"All of these things ultimately could lead to one thing - the opening of serious, real, open and direct negotiations between us," Olmert said. "So that we can move forward towards a comprehensive agreement between us and the Palestinians."
Olmert also said that Israel would display "patience and restraint" in the face of Palestinian violations of a cease-fire that went into effect earlier in the day.
"Even though there are still violations of the cease-fire by the Palestinian side, I have instructed our defense officials not to respond, to show restraint, and to give this cease-fire a chance to take full effect," he said during a ceremony at a high school in the Bedouin town of Rahat, adding "the government of Israel will not miss this opportunity for calm."
PA forces deploy 13,000 in GazaPalestinian Authority security forces began deploying along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel on Sunday, in order to prevent Palestinian militants from firing Qassam rockets at Israel in violation of the cease-fire.
A short time earlier, Abbas ordered the heads of Palestinian security forces to ensure that Gaza militants respect the truce, Palestinian officials said.
Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza officially began the cease-fire at 6 A.M., following an agreement reached between Abbas and the Palestinian factions. Abbas called Olmert on Saturday to inform him of the deal.
Three Qassam rockets hit Israel in the first few hours after a truce between Israel and Palestinian militant factions in the Gaza Strip went into effect, causing no damage or injuries. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said all major militant factions in the Gaza Strip had reaffirmed their commitment to the truce, Reuters reported.
"Contacts were made with the political leaderships of the factions and there is a reaffirmation of the commitment of what has been agreed to," Haniyeh said.
The military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for continued Qassam rocket fire on Israel in the hours after the truce took hold. It was not immediately clear whether there was an explicit order by Abbas to use force to stop rocket fire by militants.
"President Abbas has given his instructions to security chiefs to implement the understanding of calm," one of the officials said.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad fire Qassam rockets despite truceIslamic Jihad and Hamas military wings said the rocket fire was in response to the arrest of two Hamas operatives in Hebron, despite earlier pledges not to violate the truce in response to West Bank incidents and despite the fact that the arrests took place prior to 6 A.M.
One of the rockets hit Sderot, another fell in an open area north of the western Negev town, and the third landed close to a local kibbutz.
A senior official in Jerusalem said Israel would wait several hours to see if the attacks were isolated breaches or a full-scale violation of the agreement before deciding whether to respond.
Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat, an Abbas confidant, condemned the rocket attacks. "This is a violation and [Abbas] calls it a violation, and urges all to abide by the agreement that should be honored for the interest of the Palestinian people," he said.
Despite the claims of responsibility for the rockets, a spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Ghazi Hamad, said all the armed groups had committed to the agreement, and any violations were rogue acts.
"There is a 100 percent effort to make this work, but there is no guarantee of 100 percent results," Hamad said.
The IDF said all troops were withdrawn from Gaza in the hours before the ceasefire began. Streets in northern Gaza were empty immediately after the truce took hold.
Peretz: Attacks on Israel breach of truceDefense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday morning that any attempt to fire into Israeli territories would be considered a breach of the cease-fire and treated with severity.
According to Peretz, Israel is interested in quiet, but would not accept attacks on its citizens.
Palestinian militants in Gaza also fired at least three Qassam rockets at Israel in the minutes before the cease-fire went into effect. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks.
One of the first salvo hit a house in Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. The other two Qassams landed at the entrances to kibbutzim in the western Negev, causing no damage or injuries.
A senior security source said on Saturday that military pressure and increased military actions in recent weeks had led the Palestinian factions and terror organizations to agree to a cease-fire.
After his conversation with Abbas, Olmert consulted with ministers including Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the security establishment, and told Abbas that since Israel had operated in the Gaza Strip in response to terror, Israel would stop its military activities and remove its forces from Gaza in response to the ceasefire in the hope it would hold and serve both sides.
Government sources in Jerusalem said Saturday that if the cease-fire held, it would bring forward a meeting between Olmert and Abbas.
In separate incidents on Sunday, Palestinians in the West Bank hurled a firebomb at an Israeli car near Nablus. There were no injuries in the incident. Also, Palestinians threw stones at another Israeli car south of Hebron, damaging the vehicle.
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