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Palestinian Militants Agree to Cease-Fire with Israel

The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad say they will maintain a truce with Israel, raising hopes for an end to four and a half years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

A Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, says his group is committed to what he termed quiet but wont agree to a formal truce until it sees whether Israel stops its military activities and ends its policy of killing wanted Palestinians. If Israel does not halt its policies, Mr. Zahar says the militants will, as he put it, "respond by the old ways."

Nafed Azzam, a leader of Islamic Jihad, said Israel has met some of demands of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had gone to Gaza to urge the militants to fall in line with a cease fire he agreed upon last Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Palestinian political analyst Mahdi Abdelhadi says Mr. Abbas is trying to bring all militant groups and political factions in line, but with a measured approach and one that has no guarantees of success.

" What [all] he can offer them [is] trust me, give me a chance, test me and we will proceed together. Its a matter of eye-to-eye contact and building confidence," said Mr. Abdelhadi.

Meanwhile, the joint Israeli-Palestinian security committee is scheduled to meet Sunday to work out details of the transfer of Jericho and another unspecified West Bank town to Palestinian control. The decision to make the transfer was taken Saturday night in a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Security Advisor Mohammad Dahlan. The two also agreed the Palestinians could transfer police forces from the West Bank towns of Nablus and Hebron to Jericho for training.

Israel is also considering the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners. The Voice of Palestine radio reported Sunday that Israel would release 270 prisoners on Monday. Most of those are said to be what Israel terms administrative prisoners. The rest are those whose sentences are nearly completed.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat says Israel will allow dozens of Palestinians who had been expelled to return to their homes within two weeks. The group includes 56 men expelled from the West Bank to Gaza and 13 who had taken refugee in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during clashes and a siege in May of 2002 and were subsequently expelled to Europe.