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Status of Palestinian cease-fire uncertain

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Mahmoud Abbas

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian officials gave different accounts Sunday about the status of a proposed agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian militant groups to end terrorist attacks on Israeli targets.

Israeli radio cited Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz who said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had secured a 30-day cease-fire with the two largest militant groups -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erakat said an agreement had not yet been reached, although talks were going well.

"We cannot say an agreement has been concluded yet," Erakat said.

Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military. Israel and the U.S. State Department consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said during his Sunday Cabinet meeting "there is quiet" between Israelis and Palestinians. "We still don't know if there is a real change in the situation. We hope so. We are following the events."

Israeli Army radio reported that no Palestinian Qassam rockets or mortar shells had been fired since Thursday.

Such attacks had precipitated an Israeli crackdown in Gaza last week.

The Israel Defense Forces said the last attack reported on an Israeli target in Gaza happened on Wednesday, when a mortar shell was launched on Gush Katif, causing no damage or injuries.

At a news conference Saturday, a masked spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who introduced himself as Abu-Mohammad, said his group was ready to consider Abbas' call for a cease-fire "if it is mutual and if Israel also commits to it."

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a military offshoot of the Fatah movement that has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets. Abbas has assumed the leadership of Fatah, which had been headed by Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat -- who died in November of an unknown illness.

A splinter group of Al Aqsa calling itself "Aimen Juda Brigades" said it would support Abbas' efforts to reach a cease-fire, but only if Israel would stop all military operations, including targeted killings, and release prisoners.

Two other militant groups, the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), made similar comments.

On Monday Abbas ordered Palestinian security forces to stop attacks on Israeli targets. By Friday, Abbas deployed about 2,000 security forces around northern Gaza to stop rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities. (Full story)

The use of Palestinian security forces to rein in Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets has long been a key sticking point in the Mideast peace process between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Abbas has ordered an investigation into an attack that killed six Israeli civilians on January 13 for which Hamas, the Popular Resistance and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility. (Full story)

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