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Special Reports Last Updated: Jan 31st, 2007 - 00:48:35

Palestinian rivals agree to cease-fire
By Mohammed Mar'i
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 31, 2007, 00:41

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine -- The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas agreed on Tuesday morning to a cease-fire after their fiercest military clashes in Gaza left 33 dead Palestinians.

The Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al Zahhar announced the Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement between the rival factions. The cease-fire agreement included the withdrawal of all armed men and internal checkpoints in the Gaza Strip, and the immediate release of all abductees. Both sides have also agreed to cease all campaigns of incitement.

Al Zahhar reported in a press conference, following a meeting between Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, the president's representative, Rawhi Fattouh, and the Egyptian security delegation, that the rivals also agreed that �the government will bear its responsibility in keeping law, order and security and two movements (Fatah and Hamas) must hand over any members suspected of being involved in killings to the attorney general for interrogation in accordance with the law.�

Fearing similar clashes in the West Bank cities, Al Zahhar said, regarding Fatah and Hamas, that �the two sides also agreed to hand over those suspected of involvement in the killings to prosecutors for investigation, and prevent the bloodshed in Gaza from spilling over to the West Bank.�

The agreement came two days after Saudi Arabia invited Fatah and Hamas for urgent talks in Mecca in an attempt to stop the deterioration in the Palestinian situation and to preserve the national unity. The recent circle of internal violence erupted after the failure of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal to form a unity government in their Damascus meeting last week. Although previous cease-fires between Palestinian rival factions didn't stand for hours, observers see that the last agreement may be successful due to two reasons: first, the threat of the Egyptian security delegation to leave Gaza if the fighting continued, and, second, the fear of an Israeli response to the Eilat bombing attack which killed three Israelis.

The Israel Air Force Tuesday bombarded a tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip, which the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) said was designed to transport Palestinian militants into Israel to carry out attacks. An IOF spokesman told the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that �there was an aerial attack on a tunnel near the Karni crossing [a crossing in northern Gaza], which was going to be used for attacks against Israeli citizens in the immediate future.� An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the newspaper that Israel �plans to maintain the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, and will not respond to Monday's suicide bombing in Eilat with a broad military offensive.�

Israeli military sources said that Israel at this stage will apparently avoid any broad-based operations in the Gaza Strip, in an effort not to undermine the already shaky cease-fire with the Palestinians there. The sources expected some localized operations in Gaza, such as demolishing the house of Mohammed Al Siksik who carried out the attack in Eilat, or the "targeted killing" of Palestinian activists.

Israel�s restraint from responding following the Eilat attack is not coincidental. The Israeli analyst, Amos Harel, in Haaretz wrote, �In other words, the internecine Palestinian conflict is now Gaza's best bulwark against any Israeli operation. When Fatah and Hamas are so good at killing each other, why should Israel intervene and spur them to close ranks against the common enemy?�

Mohammed Mar'i is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine . He can be reached at

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