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Israel Dismantles Checkpoints As Cease-Fire Holds

The truce, negotiated last week in Syria, was formally announced Sunday. The groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, agreed to suspend attacks on Israelis for three months. Fatah, the movement aligned with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said it would work towards a six-month truce.

National leaders of al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group affiliated with Fatah, joined the pact, but some local militia leaders warned they would continue attacks. Within hours after the ceasefire announcement, a Palestinian from a local al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia shot dead a Romanian truck driver in the West Bank.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian commanders shook hands as bulldozers removed concrete barriers from roads and traffic flowed freely for the first time since Israel clamped down during the Palestinian uprising that began more than 33 months ago. The checkpoint removal brought hope to Palestinian motorists who often had to wait hours to cross from the north to the south of the territory.

“This is a very important and serious step by the Israeli side toward the implementation of the road map,” said Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr.

The Palestinian government also announced that prime ministers Ariel Sharon of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority would meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday to discuss next steps. Both leaders met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice over the weekend.

Differences remain over Israel’s demand that the Palestinian Authority dismantle the militant groups altogether and Palestinian militants’ demands that Israel stop targeted assassinations and free some Palestinian prisoners.

Israel said it would use its military to halt attacks stemming from areas now controlled by Palestinian police only after it had given Palestinians advance warning and a chance to prevent the violence themselves, according to National Public Radio.

However, Israel has not yet committed to some of the other conditions.

“The cease-fire agreement (with the militants) was not reached with Israel,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom Monday. “Since we are not party to it, its conditions are none of our business.”

The United States was cautiously optimistic about the latest developments.

“Anything that reduces violence is a step in the right direction,” White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said. “Under the road map, parties have an obligation to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. There is still more work to be done.”

Since fighting erupted in September 2000, 2,414 Palestinians and 806 Israelis have been killed.

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