Israel, PA Agree on Cease-fire Starting Today

Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza announced yesterday a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip would begin today at 6 A.M., following an agreement reached between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian factions. Government sources in Jerusalem said the Palestinians had agreed to stop Qassam fire, suicide bombings and the digging of tunnels.

A senior security source said yesterday that military pressure and increased military actions in recent weeks had led the Palestinian factions and terror organizations to agree to a cease-fire.

Abbas called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday to tell him about the details of the agreement reached among the Palestinian factions.

After his conversation with Abbas, Olmert consulted with ministers including Defense Minister Amir 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 cease-fire in the hope it would hold and serve both sides.

A senior military source said that in the past 96 hours, 25 Palestinian terrorists had been killed, and military pressure had shown them they were losing people and assets and making only small gains, even though they were hitting Israelis.

Government sources in Jerusalem said if the cease-fire held, it would bring forward a meeting between Olmert and Abbas.

The Americans recieved a report on the details of the agreement and the Olmert-Abbas conversation, but have not announced whether they intend to initiate a summit. U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are scheduled to visit Jordan on Wednesday, and U.S. envoy Elliot Abrams will be in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

A spokesman for a group affiliated with the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Abu Abir, told Haaretz that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met last night with representatives of a number of armed groups involved in Qassam firing, including the PRC. The previous day Haniyeh met with all major factions.

Abu Abir said a condition for the cease-fire was for Israel "to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people."

In answer to a question from Haaretz, Abu Abir said Israel would have to stop targeted assassinations, raids and destruction of houses in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However he said that while the factions were not obligated to stop attacks in the West Bank, if Israel made an arrest in the West Bank, that did not mean the factions would fire Qassams in Gaza.

A spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, Khaled Abu Hilal, told Haaretz that this was the first decision of its kind involving all factions. He said that if the cease-fire succeeded in the Gaza Strip, the factions would be called to decide on extending it to the West Bank. "At the moment the West Bank is not included in the cease-fire. We are waiting for confidence-building measures from Israel," he said.

The deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuk, said over the weekend that Israel had agreed to an exchange of prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Abu Marzuk, based in Damascus, also said that based on talks Hamas political head Khaled Meshal had held in Cairo, it appeared Israel had agreed to release prisoners simultaneously with the release of Shalit, which it had opposed in the past. "This is definitely encouraging," he said.

Meanwhile, Meshal yesterday called on the international community to devise an agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in six months.