RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The prime minister of Israel is to deliver a major speech today that's expected to include a new peace initiative to the Palestinians. Ehud Olmert will be making his speech following a cease-fire this past weekend between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. That fragile truce appears to be holding. The cease-fire does not apply to the West Bank, and today Israeli troops there shot and killed at least one member of a militant Palestinian group. Palestinian officials say a woman was also killed.
NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: An Israeli Army spokesman said that early today, troops operating in the northern West Bank town of Kabatia shot two armed Palestinians. Palestinian officials said the two killed were a 22-year-old leader of the Popular Resistance Committees and a 55-year-old woman. A spokesman for the Resistance Committees vowed to avenge the killings in both the West Bank and Gaza.
But at least in Gaza the cease-fire seems to be taking hold, and an estimated 13,000 Palestinian police have been sent into the area along the border between Gaza and Israel where most of the rockets have been launched. And for 24 hours there has been no rocket fire.
Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad says Hamas wants the cease-fire to continue.
Mr. GHAZI HAMAD (Hamas Spokesman): We are committed completely to this agreement, and we will not allow anyone to violate or to break this agreement.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told Israel television that Israel is also interested in making the cease-fire work.
Mr. MARK REGEV (Israeli Government Spokesman): The Israeli military operations were defensive. We pulled out of Gaza last year not to return again this year. We pulled out of Gaza in the hope that the Israeli-Gaza frontier would be a quiet frontier. Now, if they cease their terrorist acts, we will not have any need to protect our citizens. And the ball is in their court.
GRADSTEIN: Regev says the cease-fire includes an end to suicide bombings, and that troops will stop arms smuggling via underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. Israeli security sources say that in the year since Israel pulled out, several tons of explosives have been smuggled into Gaza.
In the past, Palestinian police have not been willing to use force to stop militant groups from firing rockets or smuggling arms, and Israeli defense officials are skeptical that this time will be different.
But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there are already contacts on extending the cease-fire to the West Bank. And he said he hopes the cease-fire will lead to the release of an Israeli soldier captured on the Gaza-Israel border five months ago. Olmert has already said Israel is willing to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier.
Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): (Foreign language spoken)
GRADSTEIN: I believe this understanding on a cease-fire could contribute significantly to the release of Gilad Shalit, Olmert said.
The cease-fire has already sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity. Palestinian official Saber Akat(ph) today said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas may meet President Bush in Amman, Jordan later this week, where President Bush travels for talks with the Iraqi prime minister. The Voice of Palestine radio reported that Abbas and Olmert, along with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could also hold a summit later this week. Voice of Palestine also reported that Jordan-based units of the Palestinian Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, may be sent to Gaza to help enforce the cease-fire.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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