Israel has agreed to reduce counter-insurgency
operations in an attempt to pave the way for a ceasefire with the
U.S. diplomatic sources said the Israeli agreement came during a meeting
between an envoy of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday in Washington. The sources said Ms. Rice
obtained a series of Israeli commitments that would limit military
operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli pledge also includes a ban on targeting Palestinian
insurgency leaders, the sources said. They said this includes the
assassinations of Hamas leaders linked to suicide strikes.
An Israeli official confirmed the outlines of the pledge relayed by
Sharon envoy Dov Weisglass to the U.S. administration. But the official stressed
that Israel would not seek U.S. approval for military operations in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported.
Also, the United States, the official said, has agreed to allow Israel to
target what he termed "time-bombs." The reference was to a Palestinian
insurgent who was chosen to carry out or direct an imminent attack against
"There's a lot of work underway behind the scenes in these meetings
trying to help achieve the return of the peace process laid out in the road
map," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday.
Under the agreement, the sources said, Israel pledged to refrain
from offensive operations in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. The
exceptions to this pledge would be when Israel receives intelligence
information of an imminent Palestinian attack.
[On Thursday, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in an Israeli
grocery store in a farming community in the Jordan Valley. The owner of the
store was killed.]
The new arrangement does not have a time period, the sources said.
Earlier, reports from Israel said the Israeli restraint would last for six
weeks as part of an attempt to allow the PA to build its security forces.
On Thursday, PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to meet Hamas
leaders, the second such meeting in as many days. Abbas was said to have
proposed that Hamas insurgents join PA security forces so they would not
have to surrender their weapons.