Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed diplomatic contacts yesterday after a two-week freeze, and Israel agreed to suspend targeted killings of Palestinian militants -- two more steps toward a ceasefire and the resumption of peace talks.
The relative calm of the past week was marred by a brief burst of violence in the Gaza Strip yesterday, including Palestinian rocket fire and the killing of a three-year-old Palestinian girl, apparently by Israeli army fire.
However, it appeared unlikely the violence would slow the momentum toward a truce.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat and a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Weisglass, met yesterday to discuss the emerging ceasefire deal and prepare for a meeting between Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two have been in touch by phone for several days.
Sharon had cut off ties with the Palestinian Authority two weeks ago, after militants killed six Israeli civilians at a Gaza cargo crossing. However, the freeze was short-lived, with Israeli and Palestinian security officials resuming contacts several days later.
Erekat said that his meeting with Weisglass did not produce a summit date, but that it was held in a very good atmosphere.
A senior US envoy, meanwhile, was arriving later yesterday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the terms of a ceasefire. Earlier this week, Palestinian militant groups had agreed to suspend attacks on Israel, provided the Israeli military halts operations, including arrest raids and targeted killings.
Israeli security officials said late on Tuesday that the military had agreed to halt the targeted attacks, mainly missiles fired from helicopters, in which dozens of fugitives and scores of bystanders have been killed since the outbreak of fighting in 2000.
The most prominent Palestinians killed in the targeted attacks were Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who were hit by missile strikes last year.
The security officials said Israel would not act on its current target list of militants, but they warned that if Palestinians resume hostile activity, they will target those responsible.
Israel informed the Palestinians of the decision, the security officials said.
However, the Israeli military has not halted arrest raids, particularly in the West Bank.