- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

JERUSALEM Israelis and Palestinians agreed yesterday to stop shooting and start talking, in a development precipitated largely by last week's hijack attacks on the United States.
The Israeli army began pulling back from Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip seized during 12 months of fighting, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ordered his troops not to shoot at Israelis, even in self-defense.
While each side voiced skepticism about the motives and intentions of the other, the move appeared to offer more hope than any recent attempts to broker an end to a year of fighting that has killed around 700 people.
Washington welcomed the truce.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said if the cease-fire holds for 48 hours, he would meet Mr. Arafat in the region this week.
"The indication I have until now I just spoke with our defense minister is that in fact fire has stopped and I am very gratified by it," Mr. Peres told CNN in an interview late yesterday.
Mr. Arafat, speaking to reporters in Gaza after meeting a group of diplomats, said he had instructed his security chiefs to make sure the cease-fire does not go the way of previous truce agreements into the regional dustbin.
"We Palestinians and Israelis have to work together to break the vicious cycle of violence," Mr. Arafat said.
Since the suicide bombings on New York and the Pentagon last week, Israeli and Palestinian leaders had come under intense pressure from the United States and Europe to put down their guns, officials here said.
U.S. officials especially were concerned that fighting in the West Bank and Gaza would hamper Washington's ability to pull together a broad coalition for combatting international terrorism.
Arab countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be critical partners in that coalition but anger in these countries has been brewing for months over what many Arabs perceive as a pro-Israel bias in Washington.
For the coalition to work, fighting in the West Bank and Gaza would have to stop, Israelis and Palestinians were told.
"I think it was made clear to them that this was very important for the United States and that getting in the way would make Washington unhappy," one Western diplomat said.
While world attention was focused on the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks last week, European mediators were quietly sounding out both sides with the details of a truce, the diplomat said.
Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent his son to meet Mr. Arafat at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. He was accompanied by Avi Gil, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry and a close adviser to Mr. Peres.
The result was a cease-fire announcement made by Mr. Arafat yesterday in Arabic. Israelis had long demanded that he make the order clear to his own people in their language and a message of peace to the Israelis, timed to coincide with the start of the Jewish New Year yesterday.
"This morning, I again instructed all leaders of the security forces to work intensively on a cease-fire and to abstain even in self-defense in response to Israeli attacks," Mr. Arafat said in Gaza.
Hours later, the Israeli army issued a statement saying it had been ordered to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza that had been under full Palestinian control, including Jenin, which had been surrounded by tanks. The statement said soldiers were instructed to "avoid any offensive activities."
Military analysts, interpreting the orders on Israeli media, said they meant the army would also cease its "targeted killing" of suspected Palestinian militants.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he was encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to renew meetings between top security officials along with CIA operatives.
"We have some promise this morning and let's hope that we can see some developments that will continue this sense of promise," Mr. Powell told reporters, after speaking to both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon by phone.
While Mr. Peres was buoyant about the truce, other Israeli officials doubted Mr. Arafat's motives. At least three previous cease-fires have collapsed days after being reached.
Raanan Gissin, a top adviser to Mr. Sharon, said Mr. Arafat was eager to please Washington and avoid being grouped with Osama bin Laden the Saudi-born millionaire suspected of masterminding the U.S. attacks as an international rogue.
"It's definitely a tactical move by Arafat," Mr. Gissin said. "If it's going to develop into a strategic move, that I don't know. It depends how much pressure continues to be placed on him."
Palestinians offered a similar interpretation of the Israeli move. One official close to Mr. Arafat said Mr. Powell had told Mr. Sharon he could either ease his conditions for a cease-fire or take responsibility for any failure by Washington to cobble together a viable coalition against terrorism.
"He had no choice but to back down," said the Palestinian official, who refused to be named.
Hamas, the Islamic group behind a spate a suicide bombings against Israelis, said it would be heresy for Palestinians to assist the United States in a war on Muslims.

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