GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Palestinian militants calls for truce

A militant group linked to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction announced Saturday it is ready to stop violence if Israel halts military operations, and Israeli officials indicated that they are considering the idea.

The armed groups want Israel to stop arrest raids and targeted killings of wanted Palestinians in exchange for a truce. In the past, Israel refused to promise the militants amnesty, despite requests by Egyptian mediators who have said they could not seal a truce deal without such Israeli guarantees.

However, two advisers to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Saturday that a halt in Palestinian attacks could prompt the Israeli military to hold back.

“If there will be quiet on the Palestinian side, then there will be quiet on our side, because all of our military operations are only meant to stop terrorism,” said Zalman Shoval, a Sharon adviser. Brig. Gen. Giora Eiland, head of Israel’s National Security Council, told Israel Radio that quiet would be met by quiet.

The latest statements indicate Abbas is making progress in his attempt to persuade armed groups to halt attacks on Israel, a first step toward ending more than four years of bloodshed. A militant group linked to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction announced Saturday it is ready to stop violence if Israel halts military operations, and Israeli officials indicated that they are considering the idea.

The armed groups want Israel to stop arrest raids and targeted killings of wanted Palestinians in exchange for a truce. In the past, Israel refused to promise the militants amnesty, despite requests by Egyptian mediators who have said they could not seal a truce deal without such Israeli guarantees.

However, two advisers to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Saturday that a halt in Palestinian attacks could prompt the Israeli military to hold back.

“If there will be quiet on the Palestinian side, then there will be quiet on our side, because all of our military operations are only meant to stop terrorism,” said Zalman Shoval, a Sharon adviser. Brig. Gen. Giora Eiland, head of Israel’s National Security Council, told Israel Radio that quiet would be met by quiet.

The latest statements indicate Abbas is making progress in his attempt to persuade armed groups to halt attacks on Israel, a first step toward ending more than four years of bloodshed.

 

WASHINGTON

Iraqi vote first hurdle to democracy

President Bush had barely put away his tuxedo from the inaugural festivities when deadly bombings in Baghdad presented a stark reminder of the grim backdrop against which Iraq will hold a national election.

The vote this coming Sunday to pick a 275-member National Assembly is an important test for Bush’s mission to spread democracy through the Middle East.

Even if the elections take place with a minimum of violence, however, military and diplomatic headaches are ahead for the Bush administration and for the fledgling Iraqi government.

The national assembly has to take office, elect a prime minister and form a government and field a police force able to maintain security. Then it must write a constitution that will facilitate more elections, either in late 2005 or in 2006.

The United States must think about when it can begin to bring home some of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq and, ultimately, withdraw from the country.

“Simply having a vote by itself is relatively meaningless. The question is whether the people who are elected can do the job,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst and Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

 

WASHINGTON

Report: Nixon formed panel to fight terrorism

early three decades before the Sept. 11 attacks, a high-level government panel developed plans to protect the nation against terrorist acts ranging from radiological “dirty bombs” to airline missile attacks, according to declassified documents obtained by The Associated Press.

“Unless governments take basic precautions, we will continue to stand at the edge of an awful abyss,” Robert Kupperman, chief scientist for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, wrote in a 1977 report that summarized nearly five years of work by the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism.

The group was formed in September 1972 by President Nixon after Palestinian commandos slaughtered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. The committee involved people as diverse as Henry Kissinger to a young Rudolph Giuliani, the once-secret documents show.

 

BOSTON

Winter storm snarls eastern airports, highways

A howling blizzard slammed the Northeast yesterday with more than 2 feet of snow and hurricane-strength wind gusts, halting air travel for thousands of people, keeping others off slippery highways and burying parked cars under deep drifts.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri both declared states of emergency.

Up to 29 inches of snow fell north of Boston, parts of New Hampshire got 2 feet, New York’s Catskills collected at least 20 inches, and 18 inches fell on parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and the eastern tip of New York’s Long Island. The weather system had earlier piled a foot of snow across parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and northern Ohio.

At least six deaths were linked to the weather, three in Ohio, two in Wisconsin and one in Pennsylvania.

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