- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2005

From combined dispatches

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Authority and Hamas announced yesterday that all Palestinian factions had reaffirmed their commitment to a four-month-old power-sharing agreement, effectively ending a violent crackdown on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

“The various parties agreed to settle all causes of tension and put an end to all aspects of friction,” said Ibrahim Abou Naja, secretary-general of a committee representing the various factions.

He said the agreement, reaffirming March’s Cairo declaration, included “the evacuation of all gunmen from the streets and a ban on gatherings by Fatah and Hamas partisans in all parts of the Gaza Strip.”

At least 13 persons were injured in clashes earlier this week after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces to suppress a wave of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli targets. It was the first time that Mr. Abbas had used force against the militants.

A rocket fired by militants at an Israeli settlement yesterday backfired into a house in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, killing a 10-year-old Palestinian boy and seriously injuring another child, security and medical sources told Agence France-Presse.

The sources said six other persons were injured in the blast, most of them from one family.

More than a dozen Palestinians and six Israelis have been killed since the militants began firing the rockets at Israeli targets nine days ago.

The attacks seem aimed at creating the impression that the scheduled Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will be the result of Hamas militancy rather than a measured Israeli decision.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in the region last night for talks aimed at keeping plans for the withdrawal on track. She said she would discuss “the need for tight coordination and for rapid resolution of a number of key issues” ahead of the handover.

“This is a critical time in the history of this region because Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon has taken an historic decision to disengage from the Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank,” she told reporters.

Israeli news media reported today that Miss Rice has proposed a conference to bring together Israel and Arab countries after the Jewish state withdraws from Gaza.

The Ha’aretz newspaper’s Web site and Voice of Israel radio said Miss Rice made the suggestion at a meeting yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Palestinians should treat the pullout as a cause for celebration.

“We will organize celebrations for the day they complete their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank,” Mr. Qureia said. “We should celebrate over every single meter that they withdraw from.”

He stressed that the celebrations would be peaceful. Other Palestinian officials said that national flags would be unfurled and that there would be parades and dancing in the streets.

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