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Palestinian Rockets Test Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire


Palestinian militant cells fired rockets into southern Israel Sunday, hours after a ceasefire between Palestinian militant groups and Israel took effect. Jim Teeple reports the surprise truce comes after 25 Palestinian militants were killed during the past few days in fighting with Israeli forces. It also comes a few days before President Bush visits the region for talks with Middle East leaders.

The ceasefire announcement was made early Sunday by Nabil Aburdeneh, a close associate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"There was a telephone call between President Abbas and Mr. Olmert early this morning telling him that the Palestinian side was ready for such a truce starting from early this morning," Aburdeneh says. "We hope that this will be a good start to stop all the activities and we hope the Israelis will withdraw their troops from Gaza."

Israeli forces said they had completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by the time the ceasefire took effect at 6:00 AM local time.

The truce does not affect Israeli troops in the West Bank. Some Palestinian militants, especially those connected with the group Islamic Jihad, say they will not honor the truce because Israeli forces are continuing operations in the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant said that he believed all Palestinian factions would honor the cease fire. President Abbas ordered Palestinian security forces to patrol the Gaza border to stop rocket attacks.

Israel's cabinet met to discuss the ceasefire and the possibility that it might lead to a direct meeting in the near future between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. Mr. Olmert says if the agreement holds it could lead to open and direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Israeli prime minister says Israel is a strong country that will show restraint and patience to see if the truce holds.

Twenty five Palestinian militants had been killed fighting Israeli forces in the past few days.

U.S. officials called the ceasefire announcement a "welcome step forward" that should lead to less violence between Israelis and Palestinians. President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visit Jordan this week for talks with Middle East leaders that could include discussions on reviving peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.