JERUSALEM — Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to implement a new cease-fire early today after one of the worst days of violence in the latest Palestinian uprising claimed the lives of three Israeli soldiers and at least six Palestinians.
The agreement, after a late-night meeting between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in the Gaza Strip, reportedly recommits the two sides to measures agreed to last month between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.
Israeli officials said Barak and Arafat would formally announce the accord in separate radio addresses at noon local time today.
A statement issued by Barak's office said Peres and Arafat had agreed "on a series of steps . . . that are due to lead to the renewal of security cooperation and a halt to violence and incitement."
Israel said that in light of the agreement, it would suspend retaliatory measures against the Palestinians worked out at an emergency Cabinet meeting Wednesday night. The Israeli army said it would withdraw tanks and lift closures of Palestinian cities.
"We want to give a chance to end the violence," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari.
There was no immediate response from the Palestinian side.
Though the cease-fire was hailed by President Clinton in Washington, it clearly left peace hanging by a thread over the caldron of violence that has enveloped the region.
Unofficially, Israeli and Palestinian sources admitted that chances were slim that a cease-fire could hold in the present atmosphere. They noted there seemed nothing in the agreement that had not already been rejected by the Palestinians on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank.
In addition to the nine fatalities, more than 100 people were reported wounded in Wednesday's violence.
Israeli Defense Forces officials said much of the fighting was concentrated at important West Bank road junctions in an apparently coordinated attempt to disrupt traffic along arterial roads connecting Jewish settlements there with Israel's major cities. The intensity of the fighting and the fact that some of the most severe clashes took place within a few miles of Jerusalem added to the sense that the last hopes for peace were slipping away.
Barak called the increased violence "extremely dangerous" and hinted strongly at reprisals.
"We will not sit quietly in the face of this grave escalation," he said. "The Palestinians must learn they will achieve nothing by violence."
Late Wednesday evening, Barak met with his top security advisors in an emergency session, a step that in the past has preceded retaliatory military action.
But despite the fighting, Peres and Arafat held their previously scheduled meeting, attempting to breathe new life into sagging diplomatic efforts.
The two men shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for their part in building the Arab-Israeli peace process that is now unraveling with such frightening speed and ferocity.
The worst battle Wednesday erupted during the afternoon at the village of El Khader, just southwest of Bethlehem, where Israeli troops came under sustained machine-gun and small-arms fire from Palestinians who had taken up positions on high ground overlooking a major intersection, according to Israeli sources.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed and four were wounded. As the Palestinian firing continued, Israeli forces used helicopter gunships, tanks and other armored vehicles to rescue their wounded. The third Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinian fire in Jericho.
It was the worst single day of losses for Israeli forces since the violence began more than a month ago. Palestinian security sources reported that a Palestinian police officer and two civilians died in the firefight and 13 others were wounded.
Another prolonged firefight took place between Israeli forces in Gilo, on the southern edge of Jerusalem, and armed Palestinians in the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Jala. The fighting transformed Gilo, mainly a bedroom community for Jerusalem, into a war zone for several hours.
Many residents were forced to take shelter in their homes or with other families in houses out of the line of fire. They were ordered to stay indoors, not use lighting and keep away from windows. The stress from recent days of fighting in the area was clearly taking its toll on residents.
"We can't keep running or hiding," said Daniel Cohen, who lives in Gilo with his wife, Ayala, and their two small children. "This isn't the solution. I don't know what the solution is, but this isn't it."
In other incidents in the West Bank, Israeli helicopters fired rockets at a Palestinian Authority intelligence building in Jericho and responded to shooting in Ramallah with tank and machine-gun fire. Three other Palestinians were killed in Gaza clashes.