Arafat told reporters and diplomats he had ordered his forces to limit any possible conflict with Israeli troops.
“This morning, I again instructed all leaders of the security forces to work intensively on a cease-fire… and to abstain even in self-defense in response to Israeli attacks,”
Arafat told reporters in Palestinian-ruled Gaza.
The Israeli army responded by saying it would pull its force back.
“The forces which are in [areas] in full control of the Palestinians, will leave these areas completely,” it said in a statement. Forces in the Gaza Strip and West Bank were told to “avoid any attacking activities against the Palestinians.”
The Israeli defense ministry said it made the decision to bring stability to the region, but remained skeptical of Palestinian intentions.
“If Arafat really wants to calm the area, we want to help, to give Arafat a chance,” ministry spokesman Yarden Vatikay told the Associated Press.
In the United States, Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed what he said was a positive step.
“I hope that both sides can take advantage of this
encouraging development and it will lead to additional meetings,” Powell told reporters this morning. “So we have some promise this morning and let’s hope that we
can see some developments that will continue this sense of
The U.S. has urged both Palestinians and Israelis to return to peace negotiations. Until now, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said there needed to be 48 hours of peace before any talks began. It was unclear whether this requirement remained.
According to Western diplomats, both sides came under more pressure to end the violence following last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Continued violence between Israelis and Palestinians reportedly may have made it more difficult for the U.S. to build an international coalition against terrorism.