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Jerrold Kessel: A possible 'turning point'

CNN's Jerrold Kessel
CNN's Jerrold Kessel

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Sunday, both sides seemed poised to take conciliatory steps.

While Israel prepared to withdraw troops from Gaza, two Palestinian militant groups announced a three-month cessation of violence against Israelis.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports from Jerusalem on the latest developments in the region.

KESSEL: It seems as if things are finally coming together. [They] seem to be coming together for that U.S.- backed Middle East peace initiative, the so-called road map. The radical groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas announcing that they have undertaken a three-month truce in their attacks on the Israelis.

This does not include the other main Palestinian militant group, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, aligned to the mainstream Fatah movement. They will issue, we're told by a leading Palestinian official, their own separate announcement later this evening, but they say, the official telling CNN, there is no problem, and they will sign on to the truce as well.

The two Islamic groups issued a number of demands of Israel, but these are not conditional, say the Hamas and Islamic Jihad on them going ahead with the truce. So a truce immediately in place from the radical Palestinian groups.

Israel not reacting with a great deal of delight at this. The Israelis say that this is an internal Palestinian decision and, in fact, it could only be a trap for Israel, said one senior Israeli official, telling CNN a short while ago.

But the Israelis have moved ahead and there is no doubt that without this cease-fire on the Palestinian side, it's unlikely that there would have been the other major breakthrough, and that is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The first step to be implemented in that road map for peace is Israel beginning to withdraw its forces. This is likely to take place either tonight or tomorrow from parts of Gaza, then also Bethlehem and the West Bank.

For that, the Palestinian Authority will send their security men back into the areas to stop any attacks on Israelis. Palestinians have been preparing for that activity with their security men going through their paces to take over when many of the Israeli tanks and Israeli personnel will withdraw.

So we are perhaps at a turning point finally, after 33 months of major and bloody battles, between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps, perhaps we've turned a corner.

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