A statement by his office said Arafat is calling on the armed groups to renew their commitment to a truce and "to give a chance to political and peaceful efforts by the international community to implement the road map," a reference to a U.S.-backed peace plan.
Israeli officials reacted skeptically, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger. They claim Arafat is encouraging terrorism, and they say, terrorist leaders planning attacks on Israelis will continue to be targeted.
Arafat issued the statement at a time when he is under growing U.S. pressure to relinquish control over Palestinian security forces to help his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, carry out a crackdown on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and armed renegades in Arafat's Fatah movement. Arafat has refused to give up control, dispite direct appeals by the United States.
He told a news agency that he was "prepared to implement the law" against the militant groups if Israel in turns stops its attacks, but he did not elaborate on what steps he might take.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Arafat's statement was meaningless. "Arafat has never stopped supporting the strategy of terror," Gissin said. "He has over 60 percent of the Palestinian Authority forces under his control and has done nothing with them to pursue a peaceful solution. He has no interest in a peaceful solution."
The armed groups declared June 29 that they aree halting attacks on Israel for three months, but later changed the terms, saying they have the right to retaliate for Israeli military strikes. Under the umbrella of the cease-fire, the militants carried out three bombings, including last week's Jerusalem bus attack that killed 21 Israelis. In retaliation, Israel killed a Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, in a missile strike, prompting militant groups to formally call off the truce.
Israel has said from the start the truce was an internal Palestinian matter and that it feared this was a ploy to allow militants to regroup. However, for the first two months of the truce, Israel cut back on military strikes, only to intensify them after the Jerusalem bombing.
Islamic Jihad, one of the militant groups, said Wednesday it is open to renewing talks on the terms of a cease-fire, said a spokesman, Nafez Azzam. Hamas officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is condemning the series of Israeli strikes on Palestinian terrorists. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's policy of assassinating leaders of the Islamic militant group Hamas is reviving what he called "the vicious cycle of violence." In a statement, Abbas said Israel must understand that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Israel says its strikes against terrorists will continue, because Abbas is allowing them to operate freely in Palestinian territory.
At the same time, Abbas has asked for a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government. No date has been set yet.
Israel has said every Hamas militant is a potential target for "liquidation" — a response to a Hamas suicide attack on Aug. 19 that killed 21 people on a Jerusalem bus.
The spiraling violence has dimmed the prospects for a U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan and highlighted the reluctance of Abbas to confront militant groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
In Tuesday's botched attack, an Israeli helicopter fired three missiles at a car stuck in a traffic jam on a residential street just north of Gaza City. Three Hamas members were able to flee their car before missiles struck it, witnesses said. Doctors said a 65-year-old water-pipe vendor was killed and 26 other bystanders were wounded, including five children.
It was the third Israeli missile strike in five days.
Shadi Tayan, who owns a bookstore in the area, said "the people in the car jumped out and ran in two different directions" after one rocket hit near the front of the white car. After the men fled, two more missiles hit.
Hamas sources said the car was carrying three of its men, including Khaled Masoud, the brother of a Hamas military wing commander killed in an Israeli raid in Gaza three months ago.
The sources said Masoud was wounded in the shoulder and face and was recovering after treatment in a private clinic.
An Israeli security official said Masoud was responsible for building crude rockets of the type regularly fired into Israel and Jewish settlements in Gaza — almost invariably missing their targets.