Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, was winding up a one-week stay in Gaza on Monday, having secured at least a temporary calm in the territory, although a formal ceasefire declaration by militant groups may not come for several days.

Since he arrived in Gaza on the day a bomber killed an Israeli official in the latest incident of a mounting wave of violence, the 69-year-old Palestinian leader has achieved the seemingly impossible by winning the respect of both Israel and militant groups such as Hamas.

“Abu Mazen is working hard to calm the internal situation,” said Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank. “He is serious and open-minded and this has come through in our dialogue with him.”

Shimon Peres, Israeli vice-premier, said of Mr Abbas at the weekend: “He is a serious man who is demonstrating good will and is consistent in his moves.”

Palestinian officials hope that if the new atmosphere can be maintained, the way would be open for a resumption of talks with Israel on implementing the international 'road map' peace plan.

There has been quiet in the Gaza Strip since the middle of last week when Mr Abbas met leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two groups that had been responsible for increasingly intensive rocket and other attacks on Jewish settlements, border crossings and the Israeli border town of Sderot.

Sheikh Hassan declined to say whether the current situation amounted to a ceasefire or to predict when a formal announcement might come. “But the atmosphere of our dialogue is good and that has led to this calm.

“The world should now push to ensure that the Israeli occupying power takes steps to reinforce a ceasefire by ending its assassinations and incursions, demolitions and arrests.”

Hamas and other militants groups were under internal pressure to halt their attacks after Mr Abbas was overwhelmingly elected on January 9 on a platform that included opposition to the militarisation of the Palestinian uprising.

Hamas has also lost many of its top leadership and much of its infrastructure in Israeli military actions in the past year.

“Hamas and Abu Mazen are in the same position,” said Nabil Abu Amr, a senior ally of Mr Abbas. “Everbody needs this period of quiet and Hamas wants to pursue its political activity.”

He said Hamas had lost support because of the suffering caused by Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza and risked losing politically if it continued its attacks.

Maariv, an Israeli mass-circulation daily, on Monday quoted unnamed security officials as saying Iran and Lebanon's Hizbollah organisations were pouring money into the Palestinian territories to fund attacks that would disrupt the emerging ceasefire.

Sheikh Hassan denied the latest Israeli claim of Iranian and Hizbollah involvement in the conflict and said: “They used to blame Yassir Arafat for everything. Now it's Iran. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon added North Korea.

“Our agenda is purely Palestinian and our choices are Palestinian. We don't expect or need logistic help from anyone else.”

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