- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian militant groups told an Egyptian envoy yesterday that they remained committed to a cease-fire with Israel, a day after a bomber blew himself up outside an Israeli bus station, Palestinian officials said.

Leaders from the main militant groups — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — made the pledge during meetings with the visiting Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.

“The calm still exists. We are committed to this. … All the factions are committed,” Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said.

The pullout from the Gaza Strip, which Israel aims to finish in the coming weeks, has raised hopes for a resumption of peace talks. But tensions have remained high in recent weeks, despite the six-month-old cease-fire.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that not all settlements Israel maintains in the West Bank will remain in place in a final peace accord with the Palestinians.

Interviewed on Channel 10 television, Mr. Sharon insisted that all the main settlement blocs would remain under Israeli sovereignty, but “not all the settlements of today in Judea and Samaria will remain,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

The suicide bombing in Beersheba on Sunday, which seriously wounded two security guards, came days after Israeli troops killed five Palestinians in a West Bank raid and in the wake of two deadly attacks against Arabs by lone Jewish gunmen.

“Israel in the past few weeks has committed brutal massacres against our people, and the Palestinians have a right to respond,” said Nafez Azzam, a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group. He said, however, that the group would continue to honor the cease-fire.

The identity of the bomber remained a mystery yesterday. Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa identified the attacker as Aiman Zaakiq, 25, from the nearby village of Beit Omar. But the man’s family insisted he was in an Israeli prison.

Mr. Suleiman, a close adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, frequently has helped mediate security issues between the Palestinians and Israelis. He is scheduled to hold more meetings with Palestinian leaders and militants, as well as to give a speech to the Palestinian parliament, before holding talks with Israeli leaders tomorrow.

The Palestinians are hoping Egypt will persuade Israel to allow them free movement across the Gaza-Egypt border, to lift a sea blockade of the Gaza coast and to allow unfettered flights from the airport the Palestinians intend to rebuild.

Israel wants assurances that Gaza militants won’t smuggle in weapons for use against Israel and has proposed relocating the border crossing from inside Gaza to a point where the Gaza, Egyptian and Israeli borders meet so that it can continue to monitor the traffic.

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