| A Palestinian policeman jumps through a ring of fire during a training session in Bethlehem. (AFP)
Jericho (West Bank), June 28 (Reuters): Two Palestinian militant groups conditionally agreed to temporarily halt attacks on Israel, boosting a Washington-backed peace plan as US presidential adviser Condoleezza Rice arrived today.
Islamic Jihad said it had agreed in principle to cease fire for three months providing Israel halted track-and-kill operations against militants. The deal followed a Hamas statement yesterday saying it had decided to suspend attacks on Israel, and an Israeli agreement to pull troops from Gaza.
Israel views Rice as one of its strongest backers in Washington and the US National Security Adviser is expected press Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle militant groups. Palestinian officials have said confronting the militants could start a civil war.
A Palestinian source said key to the truce deal was a US promise to press Israel to stop targeting militants.
But a senior Israeli source said Israel was not bound by militants’ conditions for a truce. He said Israel would only negotiate and follow agreements with the Palestinian authority.
Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi said a truce was tied to Israeli steps including halting its track-and-kill operations and raids in Palestinian-controlled areas. “We have agreed on the principle of accepting the conditional truce for three months and right now it is in the process of being finalised,” Hindi said. He said he expected an agreement within 24 hours.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad and a third militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have been involved in Egyptian-sponsored talks aimed at staunching a recent upsurge in violence that has threatened the latest plan to end the violent cycle of a 33 month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.
The road map, affirmed at a June 4 summit attended by US President George W. Bush but thrown off course by tit-for-tat attacks, is the latest attempt to end decades of conflict.
Al-Aqsa, which alongside the other two groups has spearheaded suicide bombing and shooting attacks on Israelis over the duration of the uprising, said in a statement from Nablus that it had not been consulted, and warned anyone from speaking in its name. At least one radical group said it would not abide by the ceasefire. “We do not agree to stop the resistance against the Israeli occupation,” said Jamil al-Majdalawi, a senior member of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Abbas told some 200 protesters in Ramallah calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners: “There won’t be any peace, any security or any stability without their release.”.
Israeli education minister Limor Livnat warned against expecting too much of the truce, which Israel fears may merely give militants it has aggressively targeted a chance to regroup.
A senior Israeli political source said soldiers would start withdrawing on Monday in the Gaza Strip and open major roads in the expectation Palestinian forces will halt attacks.
However troops will remain around Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, the source said, adding that Palestinian forces would have a chance to act on Israeli tips of pending militant attacks before Israel launched any “track-and-kill” operations.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said talks would be held tomorrow to finalise a withdrawal in Bethlehem.