GAZA (Reuters)-Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won a commitment from militant groups in the occupied Gaza Strip on Thursday to maintain a truce with Israel that has been hit by a flare-up of violence.
Abbas sealed the pledge in talks with leaders of 14 Palestinian political factions including the Islamic militant group Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad. But militants said they would still respond to any Israeli attacks.
"When we behave wisely we will be the winners and we will put Israel in the corner, rather than have Israel put us in the corner," Abbas, calling on militant groups not to take unilateral action, said later on Palestinian television.
Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over Gaza throughout the talks, which came a day after an Israeli aircraft fired three missiles at a Palestinian rocket crew in Gaza in response to mortar fire at a Jewish settlement.
That was the latest escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence since Abbas coaxed militants into the truce he agreed with Israel in February. Israel wants Abbas to enforce calm to ease a planned Israeli pullout from Gaza starting in August.
"So far we are committed to calm … but if they (the Israelis) violate it, we will respond. If they abide by it, we will abide by it," said Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader.
Officials from Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, said the group would also maintain calm if Israel did the same. But a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said: "There will be a reaction to every (Israeli) assault."
In the latest flare-up, militants vowed revenge after Israeli forces killed an Islamic Jihad leader and a Palestinian policeman in the West Bank on Tuesday. The army said the militant had planned to dispatch suicide bombers.
Rocket and mortar fire by militants later killed two Palestinian farm workers and a Chinese laborer at a settlement in Gaza.
Israel has held off on any large-scale military response apparently because of its reluctance to inflame the situation, which could complicate its Gaza pullout plans.
Hamas says it is committed to the truce, which has sharply reduced violence but not stopped it altogether.
But the group is furious over Abbas”s decision to postpone Palestinian legislative elections that had been scheduled for July 17 and in which it had been expected to mount a serious challenge to Fatah”s dominance in parliament.
Israeli officials believe the latest mortar and rocket attacks are Hamas”s message to Abbas of the clout it wields.
Abbas, under pressure to set a fresh date for the legislative ballot, agreed at the meeting to urge parliament in writing to approve an election law in line with understandings reached with factions in ceasefire talks in Cairo in March.
The elections are not expected to be held before Israel completes its evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank in a plan Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bills as "disengagement" from conflict with Palestinians.
Speaking on television, Abbas said he would press Sharon, at a meeting scheduled for June 21, for clarifications over whether Israel would also withdraw from a Gaza border corridor with Egypt, where militants smuggle in weapons through tunnels.
He said the issue of safe passage arrangements, via Israel, for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank and criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be on the agenda.
"When we talked with the Israelis and the Americans we told them that we do not want a withdrawal that will turn Gaza into a big prison," Abbas said.