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Militants reject Mideast truce

Palestinian children watch from a doorway as two Israeli soldiers patrol in the West Bank city of Hebron.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Leaders of militant Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad said on Wednesday they will not adhere to a new cease-fire in the Mideast.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday ordered his forces to observe the cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said Tuesday Israel is canceling all offensive operations against the Palestinians after Arafat publicly reaffirmed his determination to honor the cease-fire.

But Hamas' Ahmed Sheikh Yassin said as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel continues, there will not be a cease-fire.

"What we are committed to is stopping the occupation. Once it is stopped and the settlements stop, then we will be committed to the ceasefire," he said.

"As long as the occupation the settlements and the closure are there there is no commitment."

CNN's Paula Zahn talks to Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat about the talks in the Mideast (September 18)

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CNN's Paula Zahn talks to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres about the role of the Mideast nations in fighting the terrorists (September 18)

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Saeb Erakat, Chief Palestinian negotiator: We have a golden opportunity
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Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister: The world is facing unbelievable danger
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He also said that the U.S. coalition effort will fail because it is an attack on Islam.

Abdullah Alshami, an Islamic Jihad leader, said: "We resist the occupation. It still exists, and therefore the resistance continues."

Arafat said Tuesday he has ordered his commanders to "act intensively" in securing a cease-fire with Israel and appealed again for the resumption of talks.

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that Israel began withdrawing its troops from positions around Jericho and Jenin in the West Bank Tuesday evening.

In Washington on Tuesday, 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."

U.S. 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.''

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."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN Tuesday: "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.

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.

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