Renegades blamed for West Bank killing
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades officials pledge to honor cease-fire
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Renegade members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were blamed for killing a construction worker Monday as the group's leaders confirmed they had joined a cease-fire.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah -- which includes Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- announced Sunday they would cease attacks on Israelis temporarily.
But Al Aqsa's commitment was called into question when some members claimed responsibility for shooting and killing a Bulgarian construction worker, Christo Radkov, 46, as he drove with a road crew near the village of Yabed, near Jenin, West Bank.
Al Aqsa members who claimed responsibility for the attack said they did not support the agreement announced Sunday, Palestinian sources said. But Al Aqsa officials in Gaza rushed forward to say they were onboard.
"In the name of Allah the merciful, with the main interest of the Palestinians foremost in our minds, and in line with the decisions of our leader Yasser Arafat and in order to give the new government [of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas] every opportunity to succeed, we of the Al Aqsa Martyrs have decided to desist from all sorts of resistance and to stop our actions against the Israelis," Al Aqsa leaders said in a statement.
The Fatah movement said Sunday evening it would stop all military actions against Israel and that the announcement also would apply to Al Aqsa. Al Aqsa is a militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement.
Hard-liners in the Knesset said Israel should suspend its operations under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace because the Palestinians had failed to stop attacks.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected that idea, saying that even with the greatest determination no one could stop the attacks "in just one day."
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush was "hopeful, but ... realistic."
"There will be elements that will try to prevent peace, and he wants to bring to justice the perpetrators of violence," Fleischer said.
Another senior administration official suggested the killings would never stop, saying of hard-line Palestinians, "they're rejectionist. No one expects they'll quit."
But this official said that is why the U.S. focus is to "give more muscle" to the Palestinian Authority to fight those who are determined to derail the peace process. (Full story)
Of the Palestinian Authority, Fleischer said: "This is a real test now of their ability to bring perpetrators in to justice. They need to do so."
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they would honor a cease-fire for three months, and Fatah declared a truce for six months.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
Security switch in northern Gaza
Monday's killing came as Palestinians took over security in northern Gaza and vehicles began moving north and south on the main road through Gaza from the Israeli border down to Khan Yunis.
Thousands of day laborers could be seen traveling into Israel in search of work.
Earlier, Israeli and Palestinian security officials shook hands as the Israelis withdrew and the Palestinians moved into the area.
Palestinian sources also said Israeli troops will begin withdrawing Wednesday from the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Security officials from both sides are to meet Tuesday in Jerusalem to decide the logistics of the Bethlehem withdrawal, Palestinian sources said.
Those sources said Abbas and Sharon also would meet Tuesday to discuss additional actions to progress along the road map.
The road map includes a series of commitments that both sides need to make, with the eventual aim of a Palestinian state and Israel living side by side peacefully by 2005.
In the first phase, Palestinians must dismantle "terrorist infrastructure and capabilities," while Israel must withdraw from areas reoccupied since September 28, 2000.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell praised steps being taken in the region. "I think it is significant, and it's a positive development," he told CNN's "American Morning." (Transcript)
The cease-fire announced by Hamas and Islamic Jihad was to take effect immediately but features a number of demands on Israel, including an end to assassinations of the groups' leaders, an end to the siege that has kept Arafat confined to his Ramallah compound, and the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Jews visit Temple Mount
In Jerusalem, Israeli police said Jews and small groups of tourists have been allowed to visit the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, for the first time since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.
Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said there were no incidents or confrontations and that the visits did not mark a "new doctrine," just that certain groups were allowed to go under police escort.
A visit to the site in September 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then an opposition leader and now prime minister, outraged the Muslim community and has been blamed, in part, for sparking the intifada.
Akrama Sabri, the mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, said he was not consulted on the recent visits and that the Israeli police acted on their own. He said Islamic authorities would discuss the issue in coming days.
Sabri said the tourists did not actually enter the Temple Mount itself.
For Muslims, the holy site is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which marks the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. For Jews, it is the spot where the holy temples of biblical and Roman times stood.