Israel agrees to ban on Hamas assassinations

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Israel has agreed to reduce counter-insurgency operations in an attempt to pave the way for a ceasefire with the Palestinian Authority.

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 Israeli targets. "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.

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