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Palestinian officials: Militants offer 3-month truce

Bush: 'I'll believe it when I see it'

A Palestinian woman walks past the image of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on Wednesday in Gaza City.
A Palestinian woman walks past the image of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on Wednesday in Gaza City.

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Shadows over a cease-fire -- even before an official truce is announced.
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Hamas, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for terror attacks against Israeli civilians and for attacks against the Israeli military. All have been designated terrorist organizations by the United States.

Hamas:A Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group. Its military Wing is the Izzedine al Qassam.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: A military offshoot of Fatah, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad: A militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian officials said Wednesday that Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad have agreed to a three-month suspension of attacks against Israelis, but a Hamas spokesman said no such agreement had been reached.

The possibility of a breakthrough raised hopes for some progress toward peace on the 1,000th day of the current intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel.

Palestinian officials said the cease-fire specifies that militant groups will halt "all attacks" against Israeli civilians.

The tentative truce agreement was circulated among members of the radical groups in Damascus, Syria, and sent to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, a top leader in Arafat's Fatah movement, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the officials said.

Barghouti is on trial in Israel for carrying out attacks on Israelis. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is an offshoot of the Fatah movement.

Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Arafat had given his blessing to the deal and the only thing that remained was for Israel to offer its assurance it would stop targeted killings of radical leaders.

Rudeineh called on the United States to press Israel for guarantees it would stop the targeted killings. He said Israeli officials had not shown up at a scheduled security meeting with Palestinian officials set for Wednesday

If those assurances are given, Palestinian officials said, the Palestinian Authority will accept the cease-fire proposal and an announcement will be made in Cairo, where the Egyptian government has been instrumental in getting the radical groups to consider halting their attacks.

But Hamas spokesman Ismail Abu Shanab told CNN, "Until this moment nothing official is declared. ... I think we need some more time to reach an agreement. So let's wait until the official statement is declared."

Shanab said an attack earlier Wednesday in which the Israel Defense Forces said its helicopters fired rockets against a Hamas militant on his way to carry out a mortar attack "complicates the situation."

Shanab accused Israel of "putting obstacles in front of any agreement."

Palestinian sources said the target of the attack, Mohammed Abu Siam, survived but had to have his leg amputated. Two bystanders in the car traveling behind the Hamas militant were hit and killed, and 12 others were wounded, three of them critically, the sources said.

Bush: 'Hamas must be dismantled'

White House officials said they had no word of an agreement. The White House is in touch with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but does not communicate with Arafat.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said President Bush when asked about the possibility of a cease-fire agreement.

Bush said the "true test" would be if the Palestinian militant groups gave up their arms and thus their ability to disrupt the peace process. "Hamas must be dismantled," he said. (Full story)

In December 2001, after weeks of international pressure on Arafat, Hamas offered a cease-fire, proposing to end suicide attacks within Israel's 1948 borders and end mortar attacks "until further notice." Other militant groups denounced Arafat's call for a cease-fire.

Israel rejected the Hamas announcement, calling it a mixed message. The United States also insisted that all terrorist activities must stop.

Members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Izzedine al Qassam -- the military wing of Hamas -- are believed to be behind most of the recent terror attacks on Israeli civilians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

The groups also have claimed responsibility for attacks on the Israeli military. All are labeled terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

Time to regroup?

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, said it appeared a cease-fire is at hand.

"The Israeli government is committed to fulfilling obligations under the road map and will do so the minute it is clear that the Palestinian Authority has indeed cracked down on terror," he said.

Palestinians ride a cart past an Israeli armored personnel carrier near Gaza's Beit Hanoun, where Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed Wednesday.
Palestinians ride a cart past an Israeli armored personnel carrier near Gaza's Beit Hanoun, where Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed Wednesday.

"We will have to study this very, very carefully and make sure it's not a matter of allowing Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the others just to regroup so that in three weeks time or six weeks time they can relaunch the attacks against Israel, " he said.

Abbas had been pressing the militants for a cease-fire for weeks, since he called for an end to the armed intifada during a summit with Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jordan.

All sides have pointed to a cease-fire as a necessary step before moving forward with the U.S.-backed road map for peace.

That document, drafted by the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union calls for a Palestinian state by 2005. But incremental steps include Palestinians clamping down on terror groups and Israel dismantling settlement outposts built since 2001.

The tentative deal came after Israeli authorities said they found and disabled a large bomb Wednesday in northern Israel after receiving a tip that the area was the target of an attack.

Police took two Palestinians in for questioning, authorities said.

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