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Archive for Sunday, February 13, 2005

Palestinian militants to give ‘quietness’ a chance

February 13, 2005

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— The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad said Saturday they were adhering to a de facto truce with Israel, but stopped short of committing to the official cease-fire that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed on at their summit.

Israel agreed to repatriate about 55 Palestinians it deported to the Gaza Strip and Europe on terror accusations. The majority were exiled after a monthlong siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002.

In fast-paced moves to cement the truce, Israel said it would transfer control of the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinians this week. As part of the cease-fire, Israel has pledged to return five West Bank towns -- the others are Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, Bethlehem and Ramallah -- to Palestinian control within three weeks.

Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad met Saturday with Abbas, who is trying to keep the fragile cease-fire intact and end more than four years of fighting.

The two groups had already agreed to halt attacks before the cease-fire agreement at Tuesday's summit in Egypt.

A Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, told The Associated Press the group would wait to see whether Israel stops its military activities and targeted killings of Palestinian militants before deciding whether to sign on to the official cease-fire.

Zahar, after meeting Abbas, said Hamas was "committed to what is called 'quietness"' until it determines whether Israel meets its truce obligations, including disclosing the criteria for releasing Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas was behind dozens of suicide bombings and attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis. On Thursday, it upset the Sharon-Abbas truce by training dozens of rockets and mortars on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Though Israel gave no timetable for the return of the deported Palestinians, one of the exiles, Ghanem Sweilem, told reporters in Gaza City on Saturday that they expect to go home within a week or two.

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