Two Palestinian groups renew cease-fire pledge
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Two Palestinian militant organizations renewed their pledges Thursday to maintain a cease-fire with Israel, while pressing the Israelis to release more Palestinian prisoners, according to spokesmen for the groups.
The announcement came as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak intervened in a leadership struggle between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and leaders of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
Leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hamas met Wednesday and Thursday with envoys from the Egyptian government, spokesmen for the groups said. The spokesmen said the two organizations will continue to honor a three-month cease-fire they declared June 29, halting attacks on Israeli targets.
Since the cease-fire was announced, the Israeli military has withdrawn from parts of Gaza and the West Bank, including Bethlehem. Israel has indicated it would hand over control of more Palestinian territory if the cease-fire holds.
A West Bank cell of Islamic Jihad said it carried out a suicide bombing this week that killed a 65-year-old grandmother north of Tel Aviv. But a leader of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza said the group remains committed to the cease-fire.
There was no word Thursday from the third Palestinian group to join the cease-fire, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is aligned with Fatah.
Muhammad Al-Hindi, spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the groups gave the Egyptian envoys a message for U.S. diplomats working to push the peace process forward, warning two issues could derail the truce if Israel doesn't act.
Al-Hindi said the most crucial issue is the release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel Radio reported Thursday that U.S. envoys were pressing Israel for a prisoner release.
Talks scheduled on prisoner release
Palestinian security chief Muhammad Dahlan and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz were scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the prisoner issue.
Israel has said it is considering how many prisoners should be freed -- among about 6,000 Palestinians in custody.
Israel recently released dozens of Palestinian detainees, including Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, a senior Palestinian security official, according to Palestinian security sources. Most were detained in an operation to arrest suspected militants in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Al-Hindi said it also is important to keep tourists from visiting Jerusalem's holy site Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary -- known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The area, one of the most sacred to Muslims and Jews, was opened briefly last month to tourists.
On Wednesday, Mubarak called Arafat, urging him to put an end to the leadership crisis, which threatens to undermine Abbas. Arafat's office announced that he received the call but offered no hint as to his response.
Meanwhile, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was planning to travel to Gaza to help mediate the crisis, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Abbas offered his resignation from the Fatah Central Committee this week after hard-liners associated with Arafat criticized his handling of negotiations with Israel.
The committee refused to accept his resignation, but the same hard-liners were said to be pushing Thursday for Abbas to reduce the powers of security head Dahlan.
Abbas' selection as prime minister was seen as key to any movement in the peace process because the United States was not prepared to get involved in negotiations with Arafat, whom they accused of not doing enough to curb terrorist attacks on Israeli targets.
The recent cease-fire was born out of international pressure on Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to follow a U.S.-backed "road map" to peace.
The road map proposes steps by both sides toward ending the conflict and establishing an independent Palestinian state peacefully existing side by side with Israel by 2005.