JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel and the Palestinians observed a tentative truce Wednesday, a day after pulling back forces at the prodding of the United States.
Calm in the region is seen as crucial to Washington's efforts to bring Arab and Muslim states into an anti-terror coalition that would retaliate for last week's attacks on the United States.
A senior Palestinian official said privately that the Palestinian leadership hopes to start a new chapter with Israel, and that the dramatic events of the past week might provide the opening.
However, previous cease-fire efforts have failed, most recently a U.S.-brokered deal in June. There was also some concern that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat might not be able to rein in Islamic militants and small bands of gunmen.
By Wednesday afternoon, the Israeli army had not reported any violence for more than 12 hours -- since the last skirmish Tuesday night just before midnight.
Arafat announced Tuesday that he was ordering his security forces to prevent attacks on Israelis, and that officers were to show maximum restraint, even if fired on.
In Washington, President Bush praised Arafat's announcement.
Israel responded to Arafat's orders by withdrawing tanks from Palestinian territory and promising to halt military strikes.
Arafat convened his security commanders in the Gaza Strip late Tuesday -- those in the West Bank joined by conference call -- to explain the orders, his aides said.
The spiritual leader of the militant Hamas group said his organization was not bound by Arafat's cease fire declaration. However some spokesmen have privately said their groups would hold off on more bombing campaigns because of the current charged international climate against terror attacks.
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