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Mideast Peace Back On Track?

A young Palestinian boy walks though the rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli soldiers in the village of Mujarkha Mideast Israel Palestinians Gaza
AP
Israel and the Palestinians agreed in principle Friday on the terms of an Israeli pullback from parts of the Gaza Strip, Israel TV said.

Under an agreement negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs, Israeli troops are expected to pull out of parts of the Gaza Strip next week. Sources on both sides say Israel will halt attacks on militants in the areas vacated by the army, while Palestinian police will prevent terrorist attacks. If it works, Israeli forces will pull out of the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Also Friday, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger, the spiritual leader of Hamas said the group has decided to call a truce. Final details are being hammered out with two other militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade. A formal cease-fire announcement is expected on Sunday.

The pullback deal was reached in a meeting between security officials from both sides, the report said. The report could not immediately be confirmed independently.

A senior Israeli official said a truce with the Palestinian militants is not the worth the paper it's written on. Describing it as "poison covered in honey." Parliament member Yuval Shteinitz of the ruling Likud party called it a ploy by the terrorist groups.

"They will use the cease-fire and partial Israeli withdrawal in order to recover and to rebuild, and to prepare the next round of violence," he said.

Officials also say the peace road map demands that the Palestinian Authority dismantle these groups, not negotiate with them. Nevertheless, Israel is prepared to go along with the cease-fire, to give the road map a chance.

Also as part of the U.S.-backed peace plan, Israel must gradually withdraw from areas it reoccupied during the past 33 months of fighting. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the terms of the withdrawal from areas in Gaza had been deadlocked for several weeks, in part over who would control the main north-south road.

Israeli soldiers hunting a top Hamas bombmaker raided two homes Friday, killing three gunmen and another man in a firefight. One Israeli soldier also was killed.

In the two-hour battle, soldiers blew up a house and fired more than a dozen tank shells, as combat helicopters fired machine guns toward groups of dozens of gunmen. The target of the raid, Adnan al-Ghoul, also known as "The Engineer," was not present.

The Israeli army says the fourth person killed was a Palestinian gunman in an adjacent house.

Even while peace talks continued, Palestinian suicide bombers have been trying to infiltrate Israel from the West Bank. Three bombers carrying explosives were intercepted and killed by Israeli security forces over the past two days.

Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, is to arrive in the region on Saturday, as President Bush's personal envoy, to talk to the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers about the plan.

En route to the Middle East, Rice called on the European Union to outlaw the political wing of Hamas to dry up the flow of donations to the group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in bombings and shootings.

In Friday's raid, undercover troops surrounded the home of Omran al-Ghoul, a brother of the Hamas bombmaker and himself an operative of the group, in the village of Mujarkha in the central Gaza Strip.

A gunbattle erupted between soldiers and dozens of armed Palestinians, and Omran al-Ghoul and the bombmaker's son, Mohammed, 19, were killed. In a separate clash nearby, a bystander and another gunmen were killed, Palestinian hospital officials said. Palestinian witnesses said they heard 17 tank shells being shot during the battles, and said helicopters fired incessantly.

Adnan al-Ghoul, 42, is the chief bombmaker of Hamas, and has overseen the construction of homemade Qassam rockets the group has been firing at nearby Jewish settlements and Israeli border communities. He has been wanted for more than a decade by both by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has repeatedly tried to kill him in recent years, but failed.