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Jerrold Kessel: Mideast truce a 'dramatic development'

CNN's Jerrold Kessel
CNN's Jerrold Kessel

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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. The United States has designated the three as terrorist organizations.

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.

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In a potential step forward on the "road map" toward Middle East peace, three Palestinian militant groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- agreed Wednesday to a three-month cease-fire, suspending attacks against Israelis, senior Palestinian officials said.

The three sent a document formalizing the agreement among them to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, the officials said.

However, Hamas leaders in Gaza raised doubts about the cease-fire, telling CNN that while there had been movement there was still no agreement.

CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel spoke Wednesday with Anchor Wolf Blitzer about a possible breakthrough.

KESSEL: We have confirmation from a senior Palestinian official that the three militant Palestinian groups who've been at the forefront of the ongoing -- [Wednesday] is the 1,000th day of this ongoing struggle, the intifada against Israel -- have agreed to a three-month truce, a three-month cease-fire where they will halt all their military activity, so says such a document.

The three groups are the radical Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the mainstream Fatah movement, whose Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have also been at the front of the confrontation with Israel.

The way it's worked, Wolf, is that there was a tendency on all three sides to agree to that attempt by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to cajole them into making this commitment for a three-month truce after the Aqaba summit [this month in Jordan] at which he gave his word to President Bush that he would work in that direction.

And over the last 24 hours, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with their representatives in Damascus in Syria, have sent their commitment to the document, which then went [Wednesday] afternoon to an Israeli prison, where Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank, ... gave his commitment on behalf of Fatah.

And as far we understand, the document is on its way to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. And there will be a formal announcement sometime later [Wednesday], with the actual formal announcement coming in Cairo of the agreement on the Palestinian side for the three-month truce in actions against Israel.

So [it's] a dramatic development, although it has been sometime in coming, that could reshape the ongoing peace initiative that was launched at the Aqaba summit just a couple of weeks ago.

BLITZER: Jerrold, I hear you say it was [sent] to Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Palestinian leader, it's gone to Yasser Arafat. But what about the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the security chief Muhammad Dahlan? Where do they fit into this?

KESSEL: Yes, you are absolutely right about that ellipsis, which was fairly deliberate on my part because it is surprising that the document is presented to Yasser Arafat for confirmation, not to Mahmoud Abbas.

This could be, as far as I understand, on the Palestinian side because Hamas and Islamic Jihad were very, very angry at Mahmoud Abbas at the way he represented the Palestinian interests they sought at the Aqaba summit. And so they've given their agreement to go, and the direction was to go to Yasser Arafat.

But it doesn't mean to say, of course, that Mahmoud Abbas and his security chief Muhammad Dahlan are not on board. Of course they're at the forefront and have been at the forefront of the last two weeks and more of efforts to get the Islamic radical groups on board.

But they have done so. It seems they have been successful. And even though it is formally going to Yasser Arafat, it is the work, you could say of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, and of Muhammad Dahlan, the security chief, which led to this direction.

BLITZER: Jerrold, [what's] the Israeli government reaction? Does truth suggest that they are now going to start withdrawing from the northern part of Gaza and perhaps the Bethlehem area on the West Bank as an initial gesture?

KESSEL: Yes, we've had a triangle, Wolf. It's been Hamas and the radical groups for the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the Palestinian Authority separately.

Once this hudna [Arabic for truce], this so-called temporary truce is in place, that would open the way for the agreement that's moving to conclusion between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the beginning of the first implementation of the first mutual steps in the peace initiative. [This] would involve, as you rightly say, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from certain areas in the first instance, northern Gaza and Bethlehem on the West Bank, and Palestinian security forces to come in there and to take over responsibility.

What had been holding [it] up was the fact that the Palestinians were unwilling to take upon themselves the security responsibilities until this truce was in place.

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