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Jihad Leader Says Group Accepts Truce (AP) By JASON KEYSER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/28/03 11:02 AM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44725-2003Jun28.html
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JERUSALEM - An Islamic Jihad leader announced Saturday that the group accepted a conditional three-month halt to attacks on Israelis - the first open confirmation of the deal from a militant leader.
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The announcement came ahead of a visit by U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Saturday to talk with Israelis and Palestinians about their next moves under the so-called "road map" plan for Palestinian statehood by 2005.
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The road map - shaken by violence ever since its launching by President Bush on June 4 - could get a boost from both a truce by militants and a deal reached Friday between Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs for an Israeli troop withdrawal from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
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Militants in Gaza have said earlier that Syrian-based leaders of Islamic Jihad and the larger Hamas group had accepted a temporary cease-fire negotiated with Yasser Arafat´s Fatah movement.
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But the announcement by Islamic Jihad´s Mohammed al-Hindi was the first public acceptance of the truce by a militant leader.
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"We have accepted a conditional cease-fire for three months," the leader," al-Hindi told The Associated Press on Saturday. "I expect that it´s going to be finished within 24 hours and after that it will be declared, if not tomorrow, the day after."
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Intensive meetings continued Saturday between Jihad, Hamas and Fatah to work out the final wording of a declaration, and efforts were on to bring 10 smaller factions on board.
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Hamas leaders have indicated their acceptance of the truce, but they were waiting to declare it formally in the joint declaration with all the parties.
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"I believe that it will be a good document," said Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi on Friday. "It will serve the interest of the Palestinian people and will preserve Palestinian unity and the option of resistance."
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Meanwhile, an Israeli troop withdrawal could begin as early as Monday, officials said.
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Friday´s initial agreement on a withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem came with a pledge by Israel to halt targeted killings of Palestinian militants, sources said. That is one of the Palestinian militants´ key demands for going ahead with a cease-fire.
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At its weekly Saturday meeting, Fatah approved the agreement reached by security chief Mohammed Dahlan with the Israelis. Under the deal, the Palestinians will take over security of areas Israeli leaves and have agreed to act against what Israel calls "ticking bombs" - a reference to assailants on their way to attack Israelis, and the people who send them.
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"The Palestinian security apparatus is ready to take on this huge responsibility," Dahlan said.
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The road map requires Israeli forces to pull back to positions held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000. U.S. envoy John Wolf will assemble an American team to monitor the handover of security control, said Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.
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"We are pleased with the progress we have seen," Powell said.
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Rice planned to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas later Saturday in the West Bank desert oasis of Jericho. On Sunday, she meets Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
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The developments came even as violence continued Friday - a raid by Israeli commandos searching unsuccessfully for a top Hamas bombmaker left four Palestinians and an Israeli soldier dead in the Gaza Strip.
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A cease-fire declaration by militant groups could mark a turning point in the 33 months of violence - although Israel has been skeptical of the truce idea, and it remains to be seen whether all militants will comply.
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The militant groups´ truce document applies to settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza in addition to civilians in Israel, fulfilling a key Israeli demand.
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In exchange, the Palestinian groups asked Israel to suspend targeted killings of militants and release prisoners.
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Demanding prisoners be released, a crowd of Palestinian protesters confronted Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah Saturday, demanding that he pressure Israel to win prisoners´ freedom.
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Coming out of his office to speak to the noisy crowd, Abbas told them he would raise their demands with Rice. Handed a loudspeaker by an aide, Abbas shouted: "There will be no peace or security if even one Palestinian prisoner remains behind bars."
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Israel and the United States have given the cease-fire a lukewarm welcome, preferring instead to see militant groups dismantled, as the road map requires.
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But there seemed to be a change in tone among Israeli officials Friday. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said an end to attacks would be welcome, adding that "I hope it happens."
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"But it doesn´t diminish the Palestinian obligation under the road map to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including imprisoning their leaders and giving their weapons to a third party," he said. (© 2003 The Associated Press 06/28/03)
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