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Hamas Agrees to Three-Month Cease-Fire

Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told Reuters, ”Hamas has studied all the developments and has reached a decision to call a truce, or a suspension of fighting activities.”

He said Hamas was in contact with the leaders of two other militant groups, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is affiliated with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

Yassin said the terms and conditions of the cease-fire were not yet final.

“We are still in contact with the rest of the factions in order to reach a joint formula to be signed by everybody,” Yassin said.

In Washington, a White House spokesman said the president was pleased with Hamas’ apparent decision, adding that presidential adviser Condoleezza Rice will hold intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials this weekend in an effort to build on the momentum.

According to regional experts, a cease-fire would be a victory for newly elected Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who has been under pressure from the U.S. and European leaders to broker an end to terrorist attacks. The internationally backed peace plan, which proposes Palestinian statehood as early as 2005, also calls on the Palestinians to dismantle the militant organization.

Israeli officials remained skeptical, saying they were worried a cease-fire could give militants time to regroup after 33 months of violence.

“In our opinion, a cease-fire will not help,” said David Faranga, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. “What is needed is the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure and war on terror. From our point of view a cease-fire is a ticking bomb.”

Marwan Barghouti, the jailed leader of the militant arm of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement; Khaled Mashal, a key leader of Hamas, currently in Damascus, Syria; and Ramadan Shalah of Islamic Jihad worked out the truce during negotiations over the past few days, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier, local Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in the Gaza Strip denied there was a deal, but senior militant leaders were reportedly signing the pact as of Friday morning local time.

The news of the possible truce did little to immediately end the violence in the region. Within hours, two Hamas gunmen and another man were killed during Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip.

One of the militants’ demands — but not a precondition of the truce deal — is that Israel halt all military strikes, including targeted killings of Palestinian militant leaders.

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