Peres and Arafat Reach 'Ceasefire Accord'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat are expected to announce a ceasefire agreement today, following talks between former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Arafat that went late into the night.

At 2 p.m. Israel time, Barak and Arafat are expected to make separate, public announcements to their people that a ceasefire has been reached.

They are meant to call "on all the sides to halt the violence," Peres said in a radio interview on Thursday.

He said the sides wanted "at least two days without funerals." The senior statesman and architect of the crumbling peace process added that the goal was ultimately to return to the negotiating table.

The Peres-Arafat meeting was seen as one final effort to bring an end to the spiraling violence, which threatened to plunge the region into all-out war.

There seemed to be a change in tone for the first time in more than a month on Palestinian radio on Thursday morning. Israel has accused Palestinian media of inflaming the situation and encouraging the confrontations.

Last night's talks came after a day in which six Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The deaths brought the fatality toll to at least 170 since fighting broke at the end of September.

Barak, who held an emergency session with security advisors to plan a response to Wednesday's fierce battles, agreed to suspend any response after Peres returned from his meeting with Arafat in Gaza with an apparent deal.

"An understanding was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority concerning a number of steps, on the basis of the understandings of Sharm el Sheikh, which are supposed to bring about a renewal of the security cooperation and a cessation of the violence and incitement," a statement from Barak's office said.

It said the understanding had prompted Israel to freeze plans for a response to Wednesday's violence.

Over the past month, Israel has retaliated twice specifically for the deaths of Israeli soldiers and civilians. The army shelled the headquarters of Arafat's security forces after two reservists who lost their way in PA-controlled Ramallah were murdered and their bodies mutilated by a lynchmob.

Israel later attacked the headquarters of Arafat's paramilitary Fatah organization, which has spearheaded shooting attacks after two civilians were murdered and a third critically wounded in two separate terror attacks in Jerusalem.

President Clinton expressed the hope that the Peres-Arafat agreement would end the violent conflict and lead to the implementation of an earlier one, reached with Clinton's mediation in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh two weeks ago. That understanding never bore fruit.

Arafat and his security heads have agreed to several "ceasefires" over the past month, including one reached at a meeting in Paris with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. But they have not acted to stop the violence, and Arafat has publicly approved of the continues "uprising."

In a unilateral step Thursday, Israel began withdrawing tanks it had deployed at problem spots and evacuated an army outpost in Gaza, leaving it in the hands of the PA police, according to an army spokesman.

The outpost at Karni has been the site of fierce clashes during the last month. A group of some 100 Palestinians burned tires there Thursday morning. Shooting attacks on Israeli communities in the disputed West Bank also continued over night.

The PA wants the 230,000 Israelis living in communities on the disputed land to leave. But for many Jews, the land called Judea-Samaria for thousands of years is their historical and biblical heritage.

Last summer PA leaders pledged to wage a "peaceful" intifada (uprising) against Israeli settlements if they were not evacuated.