|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-321945 Israel Palestinians (L-O)
TITLE= ISRAEL /PALESTINIANS (L-O)
BYLINE= BENJAMIN SAND
HEADLINE: Palestinian Militants Edge Towards Ceasefire
INTRO: Palestinian militants are reportedly nearing an agreement with newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to halt attacks against Israel. Militant leaders are disputing an Israeli claim that a deal has already been made, but as VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Jerusalem, officials on both sides express a willingness to respect a ceasefire if and when one is established.
TEXT: Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Sunday a ceasefire agreement with militant groups could be confirmed within days. But Mr. Shaath rejected Israeli claims that a deal had already been secured with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Several days ago Mr. Shaath said the ceasefire negotiations were a key step toward resuming peace talks with Israel.
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"What we are trying to do is to reach a Palestinian consensus to go to the Israelis and the world with: that the Palestinians are ready for a total cessation of violence and the Israelis should reciprocate at the same time."
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Militant groups are avoiding confirmation of a ceasefire deal, but say they would respect a month-long truce if Israel ends its raids into Gaza and the targeted killings of Palestinian militants.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says his forces will suspend operations in Gaza as long as Palestinians do not provoke a fresh round of attacks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas started the ceasefire talks last week in Gaza. Officials say that during the proposed 30-day ceasefire he will continue negotiating with the militants to advance a more detailed and comprehensive settlement.
Mr. Abbas says he wants to encourage the various armed groups to join mainstream political efforts to secure an independent Palestinian state.
Mr. Abbas has also deployed Palestinian security forces to border areas across Gaza to prevent militant attacks against Israeli settlements and nearby Israeli towns. (SIGNED)
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