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Palestinian militants say they will hold to truce

Israel to allow 56 Palestinian exiles to return home

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Will Palestinian militant groups continue to maintain the truce with Israel?
Islamic Jihad
Mahmoud Abbas

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad reiterated their promise Saturday to halt attacks against Israel, but stopped short of joining an oral cease-fire pact reached four days ago between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The two groups, which oppose Israel's existence, met in Gaza with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas had pledged to stop violence against Israel as part of a general halt by all militant groups, including the militant wing of Abbas' Fatah movement, earlier this week.

Hamas also agreed to hold off on retaliatory actions if Palestinians are attacked by Israel and will consult the Palestinian Authority before taking any reprisals, a Palestinian government source said.

Hamas wants Israel to suspend attacks against senior Hamas leaders and not to make incursions into the Palestinian territories.

"If [the Israelis] are going to stop their aggression, by all means -- targeting, demolishing, conquering and others -- we are going to declare that we are committed to a quietness," senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said.

Thursday, Abbas fired three key security officers after Palestinian militants fired mortar rounds at Israeli communities in Gaza, a Palestinian official said.

Abbas sacked Omar Ashur, security commander for southern Gaza, and some of his officers, as well as Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidem, head of the National Security Guard, and Saeb al-Ajis, a police commander, the official said.

Tuesday's cease-fire agreement came at the end of a summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt -- the first upper-level meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in more than four years. (Full story)

Fatah is the mainstream faction and Palestinian nationalist movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is dedicated to the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

Palestinian exiles may return

Israel announced Saturday that it will allow 56 Palestinians expelled from their homes in the West Bank to return, including exiled militants involved in a siege at the Church of the Nativity nearly three years ago.

The agreement was the result of a negotiation between a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee.

It is not clear when the Palestinians will be freed.

First, they must agree to observe a cease-fire, forgo contact with militant groups, and move only within their hometowns, said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They also must agree to supervision by Palestinian security organizations, he said.

Thirteen of the Palestinians, once branded by Israel as "senior terrorists," were deported to Europe after their involvement in a standoff around Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in the spring of 2002.

For some five weeks, Palestinian militants barricaded themselves inside the holy site during a large-scale Israeli army operation aimed at capturing them.

Another 26 involved in the siege were expelled to Gaza.

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