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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Senior Palestinian Official Confirms Three Militant Palestinian Groups Agree to Three-Month Truce

Aired June 25, 2003 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a potentially significant story in the Middle East. A potential step forward on the road toward peace. CNN has confirmed that three Palestinian militant groups have agreed to what's being described as a three-month cease- fire. Reaction just coming in. Let's first of all get some details from Jerusalem as well as from the White House. And for we begin in Jerusalem. CNN's Jerrold Kessel is standing by for that -- Jerrold.
JERROLD KESSEL, CNN DEPUTY JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, yes. We have confirmation from a senior Palestinian official that the three militant Palestinian groups who've been at the forefront of the ongoing -- today 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 as the 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 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 the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to cajole them into making this commitment for a three- month truce after the Aqaba Summit 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 this afternoon here in Israel to an Israeli prison where Marwan Barghouti, the head of al-Fatah on the West bank, who is on trial for being the head of that uprising, gave his commitment on behalf of Al-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 today 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 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 week ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jerrold, I hear you say it was gone 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 Muhammed 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 this 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 interest 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 Muhammed 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 Muhammed Dahlan, the security chief, which led to this direction.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Sheila MacVicar is on in Gaza. I want to go to her in a second. But very quickly, Jerrold, 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, 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. Which 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 up was the fact that the Palestinians were unwilling to take upon themselves the security responsibilities until this truce was in place.

(CROSSTALK)

KESSEL: ... for that Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

BLITZER: Stand by, Jerrold. We're going to be getting back to you.

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