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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat: A Truce Is in the Offing

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said Thursday that an agreement by militant groups to suspend attacks on Israelis was imminent, but militants denied a truce was at hand.

In the latest bloodshed threatening a U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli security man guarding a telephone crew in an Arab town in northern Israel.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility, saying it was responding to Israeli strikes on militants.

Asked about a truce that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been negotiating with militant organizations, Arafat told reporters: "It was not determined officially, but we are waiting for it to be announced in the next few hours."

Officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant groups that have killed dozens of people in suicide bombings in Israel since the start of a 33-month-old uprising for statehood, said it would take several more days to finalize a deal.

A cessation of violence is crucial to the implementation of the peace plan that also stipulates the dismantling of militant factions and reciprocal Israeli steps such as troop pullbacks and a freeze in Jewish settlement expansion on occupied land.

"Dialogue has reached a very advanced stage," said Qadoura Fares, a Fatah official who held truce talks in Syria with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. He said he expected an agreement "in a few days."

Lining up behind Israel, U.S. President George W. Bush said Wednesday that "organizations such as Hamas" must be dismantled if peace is to be achieved in the Middle East. Arafat aide Ahmed Abdel-Rahman called the remarks "a flagrant call for civil war."

Abdel-Rahman's reaction appeared to put the Palestinians and the White House on a collision course over the road map, which has been hit by constant violence since its affirmation at a June 4 summit attended by Bush, Abbas and Israeli leader Ariel Sharon in Jordan.

Abbas, appointed by Arafat under international pressure, has said he does not intend to confront the militants. Instead, he wants to persuade them to accept a "hudna" or temporary truce.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, will be in the region this weekend for talks.

"I am confident of reaching a Palestinian national agreement, but every time we get close, Israel strikes against the effort and undermines the process," Abdel-Rahman said.

Lawyers for Marwan Barghouthi, an uprising leader on trial in Israel, said he has helped mediate the truce talks using his attorneys as go-betweens. It was not clear if his efforts had Israeli approval.