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Hamas Halts Shelling as Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies


Supporters of Islamic militant group Hamas
Palestinian militants have suspended attacks against Israel that were threatening the fragile Mideast cease-fire. The announcement comes ahead of high level diplomacy aimed at getting the peace process back on track.

The Islamic militant group Hamas has agreed to halt a wave of mortar and rocket attacks on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The attacks were threatening to unravel the three-month-old Mideast cease-fire because Israel had vowed to retaliate harshly.

"We reserve the right to take any necessary measure, any necessary action, on behalf of Israel's self-defense," Israeli spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said.

Three Palestinian militants have been killed since Wednesday, when Israeli forces responded to some 60 shells fired from Gaza. Fearing a dangerous escalation, Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef met with Hamas leaders and persuaded them to abide by the truce. Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA that the collapse of the cease-fire would not serve the interests of any party.

"It will not serve the Israelis, nor the Palestinians, nor anyone in the region," Mr. Erekat said. "So it is a must that we exert maximum efforts in order to sustain the cease-fire and the cessation of violence."

The restoration of calm gives a boost to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who will hold his first meeting with President Bush at the White House on Thursday. But Mr. Abbas is likely to face U.S. pressure to dismantle groups like Hamas, in compliance with the internationally-backed road map peace plan. Mr. Erekat has both sides have obligations.

"Well, I think that we have our obligations very clearly, the Israelis have their obligations, and things should go parallel," he said.

Israeli obligations include halting settlement activity and handing West Bank cities over to Palestinian control. Neither side has kept its commitments, but efforts are under way to break the deadlock. There's talk of a summit between Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in June.

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