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Palestinians Look for Pull Back of Israeli Forces


Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is calling on Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian territory, now that the militant Islamic group Hamas has pledged to stop military operations against Israelis.

Mr. Erekat says the Palestinian Authority sees the decision by Hamas to halt suicide attacks as an important move forward and says it is now time for Israel to also take positive steps.

Mr. Erekat says Israel should immediately pull back its soldiers from Palestinian controlled territory.

The negotiator also says Israel must lift the closure on Palestinian population centers and stop killing Islamic militants.

As Mr. Erekat put it, "the ball is now in the Israeli court to stop all acts of aggression."

The Hamas decision, however, only referred to attacks within Israel's borders, leaving open the possibility of further acts of violence against Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza.

Shortly after the Hamas group announced its decision, a gun battle broke out in the Gaza strip between Islamic militants and Palestinian police, killing six people.

Funerals for those who died took place without incident.

It was the worst violence among Palestinians in years, and came days after Chairman Yasser Arafat issued a call for an end to 15 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

The United States, the European Union and other countries have all urged Mr. Arafat to take action against militant groups.

The effort came after dozens of Israelis were killed in suicide bombings earlier this month.

The bombings prompted the Israeli government to launch retaliatory attacks and break off contacts with Mr. Arafat, calling him "irrelevant" in the fight against terrorism.

In what appeared to be a move to ease internal tension, an agreement was reached that Palestinian security forces would not detain senior Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Rantisi.

Palestinian sources say Mr. Rantisi has agreed to remain under house arrest in Gaza.

The Reuters news agency is reporting another militant group, Islamic Jihad, is also suspending attacks in the name of Palestinian unity.

Israel is dismissing such declarations as a ploy to ease international pressure on Mr. Arafat to crack down on militant groups.

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