Both sides order cease-fires in Mideast
GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) -- The Israeli Defense Ministry said Tuesday it is canceling all offensive operations against the Palestinians after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reaffirmed his determination to honor a cease-fire.
In a statement earlier in the day, Arafat ordered his security commanders not to fire on Israeli targets even when under fire from Israeli forces -- the first time he had told his police officers not to shoot back in self-defense if attacked.
He said he had instructed his commanders to "act intensively" in securing a cease-fire with Israel and appealed again for the resumption of talks.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the United States welcomed news of a cease-fire and resumption of contacts.
"The president hopes to see these steps implemented immediately on the ground," Fleischer said.
"The president has called on all parties, and reiterates it today, to seize this moment and do everything possible in the wake of this attack on the United States to move forward with the peace process in the Middle East."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said: ''We have seen promise ... lets hope we can see some developments that will continue with this sense of promise.''
The order came after a night of fighting in which two Palestinians were killed -- one in Hebron and one in Nablus.
In his statement Arafat said: "This morning I have reiterated my orders to all my security commanders to act intensively in securing a cease-fire on all fronts, and in every town and village. I also instructed them to exercise maximum self-restraint in the face of Israeli aggression and attacks."
Arafat also said the Palestinian Authority is ready to join an international coalition against terrorism and added:
"We, Palestinians and Israelis, have to work together to break the vicious cycle of violence. Let us get together, let us sit down and negotiate peace, let us improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and move towards a just and lasting peace and cooperation."
Shortly afterward, the Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed it was halting all offensive operations against the Palestinians.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN: "The world is facing an unbelievable danger and we have to put aside secondary skirmishes."
Peres said there would "undoubtedly" now be a meeting between the two sides -- possibly within days if the truces held.
Arafat and Peres were scheduled to meet Sunday, but that meeting was called off by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon has said the meeting could go on if there is a 48-hour period with no terror attacks.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told CNN: ''I think this is a very significant development, but you have to keep in mind the trust level between the two sides is below zero.''
He said the United States should send an emissary to the region, and also called for observers and monitors to be sent. He said a meeting between Arafat and Peres should take place immediately.
Speaking at a special Knesset session called to demonstrate solidarity with the United States following last week's terrorist attacks, Sharon said if Arafat declared a cease-fire, Israel would immediately cease all its actions against the Palestinian Authority.
Then, the prime minister said, after 48 hours of complete quiet Peres and Arafat could meet to discuss ways of stabilizing the cease-fire.
As part of the stand-down, the Israel Defense Forces said Israeli troops would begin withdrawing from Palestinian-controlled areas where they have staged incursions.
An area where the Palestinians are in full civil and security control is known as an "Area A." Israeli incursions into those areas has been a major sticking point between the two sides.
Israeli troops are currently inside Palestinian-controlled areas near Jenin, Jericho and Ramallah.
In the West Bank, the Palestine Red Crescent said one Palestinian was killed and a second was injured at a village near Jenin.
Israel Radio quoted the Israel Defense Forces as saying the men were apparently trying to plant an explosive device. The IDF said the men approached a checkpoint on a tractor and refused to stop even after IDF troops fired warning shots.
The IDF also said that after the Arafat statement was issued Palestinians opened fire at Israeli troops near the Egyptian border at Rafah. The IDF said no one was injured and there was no damage.
CNN's Mike Hanna said the cease-fire announcements were a "very powerful" development and an indication that U.S pressure in the aftermath of the hijack attacks on New York and Washington was "bearing fruit on the ground."
''We are at a new juncture and can move forward for the first time in a long time. However the situation on the ground is very fragile," the U.N. envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, told CNN.
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