Under pressure from the Basque abertzale radical left and after a series of successful police operations against leading members, ETA on Monday announced an unprecedented "permanent, general and verifiable" ceasefire with the expressed aim of ending its more than 50-year campaign of terrorist violence.
In a video, released along with a written statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara, ETA members said that the ceasefire "can be verified by the international community."
"It is time to assume a historical responsibility. ETA is issuing a call to the Spanish and French authorities to abandon their repressive ways and stop denying [the existence of] Euskal Herria," the statement said, in reference to the Basque territories straddling the Spanish-French border that ETA and other Basque nationalists believe have the right to exist as an independent nation.
"ETA won't give up its efforts and will fight to ensure that a democratic process is initiated, and until there is true democracy in Euskal Herria." The statement went on to say that it is now up to politicians to find the solution to what they continue to consider a "conflict."
Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was the first to respond on behalf of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's government, saying that the announcement was "not bad news" but that it did not mean that ETA was finished. The terrorist group must announce a "definitive and irreversible" laying down of arms, he said.
"It's evident that today, as on other occasions, they haven't done what all of us who are members of the democratic parties want," the deputy prime minister said.
Rubalcaba, who is also Spain's interior minister, said that ETA had a "distorted view of reality," and that the terrorists had not changed their intention to extract a "price for violence."
He added that the government rejected the idea of international verification of the ceasefire because "in a democratic state it is the state's security forces who do the verifying."
"The statement is a joke," said José Vargas, the head of the ETA Victims Association in Catalonia. "They need to turn over their weapons and nothing else."
Basque regional premier Patxi López called the ceasefire "a small step" but said there was no indication that the terrorist group was willing to go away. "This morning they announced that no one else would die and that is a victory for democracy and freedom," he said. "But they haven't yet decided to disband."
But abertzale leaders Txelui Moreno and Marian Beitiaarrangoitia, along with Batasuna's historic leaders Rufi Etxeberria and Miren Legorburu, called the ceasefire a "brave" and "unilateral" decision, which in their opinion falls within the lines of what the international community and their own Gernika declaration had demanded.
Brian Currin, the South African lawyer and international mediator who has been working with Batasuna to bring an end to the ETA conflict, called the ceasefire "a positive answer."
Zapatero's Socialist government launched a process of negotiations with the terrorist group in 2006 before a bomb- which killed two at Madrid's Barajas airport- shattered hopes of peace. The 2006 ceasefire was also described by the group as "permanent." The Basque terrorists' ceasefire comes four months after ETA announced a halt in attacks "to begin a democratic process," and began holding internal consultations over its future among its members, former members who live abroad, and inmates held in Spanish and French jails.
Over the past two years, ETA has suffered a series of blows, including the arrests of its top military commanders and the confiscations of weapons and explosives hidden in secret hiding places in France.
The abertzale Basque radical left in recent weeks has been pressuring ETA to call a permanent and verifiable ceasefire, echoing demands made by a group of Nobel Prize winners who said last March that the terrorist group must allow international mediators to verify that it has turned over all its weapons and was not engaging in any more attacks.
Arnaldo Otegi, the jailed leader of ETA's outlawed political wing, Batasuna, has said in recent interviews that he would condemn future attacks by the organization. But he stopped short of condemning past crimes committed by ETA, which has killed 829 people over the past five decades.
Over the weekend, members of the Basque left held one of the biggest demonstrations in recent years in support of the rights of ETA prisoners held in Spanish jails.