Peres-Arafat Finally Meet, Declare Israeli-PA Ceasefire
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat pledged to do their best to sustain a ceasefire and resume security cooperation at a long-awaited meeting on Wednesday as violence on the ground continued.
Arafat and Peres, who met at the Dahania Palestinian airport in the Gaza Strip, reiterated their commitments to fulfill the recommendations of the Mitchell committee and the Tenet ceasefire agreement.
CIA chief George Tenet brokered a ceasefire understanding between the sides in the beginning of June. Although both sides agreed to it at the time, it never took hold.
The so-called Tenet understanding is seen as the first step toward fulfilling the recommendations of a fact-finding committee headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, which is designed to eventually return the two parties to the negotiating table.
"President Yasser Arafat and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres...reiterated their full commitment to the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet understandings," the two said in a joint communique following their meeting.
"To this end both sides agreed to establish a joint committee of senior representatives in order to deal with any issue that may arise from the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet understandings," said the statement read out by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a press conference, broadcast live on Israeli television.
"The two sides will resume full security cooperation and exert maximum efforts to sustain the Tenet ceasefire," Erekat said.
In addition the parties agreed to fulfill "security obligations emanating from previous agreements."
According to those agreements, the PA will be required to arrest Palestinian militants who plan or carry out attacks against Israel as well as trim the size of their security forces and collect illegal weapons.
Israel, the statement said, will "begin to lift closures and re-deploy its forces." Israel has virtually sealed off PA-controlled areas in an effort to maintain security and prevent terrorists from entering Israel.
The two sides agreed to meet for a second time within "a week or so," the statement said, adding a thank you to all the leaders who had invested efforts in the peace process.
The terms of the agreement were set prior to the meeting in contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The meeting, agreed to last month, was put-off numerous times and took place with the strong urging of the U.S.
Washington believes that this meeting was crucial in getting the Israeli-Palestinian issue under control in order to encourage Arab and Muslim states to join President Bush's anti-terror coalition.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Tuesday that the meeting was "an important step" which the U.S. hoped would "contribute significantly to reinforcing efforts to halt the violence and build a substantive political dialogue."
Whether or not the ceasefire will hold this time remains to be seen. There have been numerous ceasefire declarations since the outbreak of trouble a year ago, in which more than 560 Palestinians, 177 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed and thousands more wounded.
Wednesday's meeting took place despite a continuation of sporadic shooting attacks and a massive explosion early in the morning, in which three Israeli soldiers were wounded.
The blast was the result of "an explosive charge placed in an underground tunnel" under an army post on the Egyptian-Israeli border, according to an army statement.
Israel has been saying for years that the Palestinians are smuggling weapons from Egypt through tunnels, which under cross the Israeli-Egyptian border and into the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli army source was quoted as saying on the radio that the bomb was composed of more than 220 pounds of TNT placed under the army position and had been set this morning due to the meeting at the PA airport in Gaza.
The army said that gun battle erupted after the explosion and Palestinian sources reported that 16-year-old Mahmoud Jalal had been killed and several others wounded in the sporadic exchanges.
In a separate incident, a 64-year-old Israeli woman was murdered in her home on Wednesday. Police believe that terrorism could be the motive behind the attack.
The Peres-Arafat meeting took place just hours before the start of the Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.
As usual on the holidays a strict closure was imposed on the territories, forbidding movement into Israel across any border crossings until early Friday morning.
In Israel the day is strictly observed. Most Israelis will spend Thursday fasting and many will attend synagogue during the annual day when the Bible calls on the Jewish people to "afflict their souls."
Television and radio broadcasts will cease from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday evening. Newspapers will not be printed on Thursday. Businesses, restaurants and all other commercial establishments will close by mid-afternoon on Wednesday through at least Thursday evening or Friday morning.