GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP - Gaza’s militant Islamic Jihad group announced a cease-fire with Israel early Thursday, ending two days of fighting that left at least 34 Palestinians dead.
Spokesman Musab al-Berim said the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5:30 a.m. There was no immediate confirmation from Israel, which rarely acknowledges deals with Gaza militant groups, but some restrictions were lifted on residents of the south, despite the continued fire of several rockets.
Al-Berim said the cease-fire was based on a list of demands presented by his group late Wednesday, including a halt to Israeli targeted killings of the group’s leaders. The fighting broke out early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander of the militant group who was said to be behind a string of rocket attacks and who Israel said was believed to be planning a cross-border infiltration.
The rare targeted killing by Israel sparked the heaviest fighting with Gaza militants since May. Islamic Jihad fired some 400 rockets toward Israel, while Israel responded with scores of airstrikes.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the policy of targeted killings had “proved itself” to be effective and that it would continue, despite word of the cease-fire.
“Everyone who was a top military official, who was set to carry out and was involved in terror or rocket firing against Israel was eliminated,” he told Israeli Army Radio. “And we intend to continue with this.”
But Katz also said Israel would hold fire if Palestinian militants did so first.
“Quiet will be answered with quiet,” he told Army Radio, denying there were wider policy reviews.
Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group, which is much larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, stayed out of the fighting, indicating it would be brief.
Palestinian officials reported 34 deaths, including a 7-year-old boy and six members of a single family. At least 16 of the dead were militants.
The rocket fire crippled life across southern Israel, as nonstop air-raid sirens canceled schools and forced people to remain indoors. Much of Gaza resembled a ghost-town, with almost no vehicles on the roads except for ambulances evacuating wounded.
Shortly after al-Berim’s announcement, at least two rockets were fired out of Gaza, setting off sirens in southern Israel. It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets or whether the launches were intentional or misfires caused by electronic timers.
But the Islamic Jihad said it was committed to ending the fighting, saying the fire was likely because word hadn’t spread to all members about the halt to violence.
Israel doesn’t usually acknowledge deals with militant groups. But U.N. and Islamic Jihad officials were in touch Wednesday with Egyptian mediators, who typically broker deals to end fighting in Gaza, and Israel did not respond to the rocket launch.
Also, the Israeli military’s Home Front command tweeted that it was lifting restrictions in certain areas but leaving them in place in the areas surrounding Gaza. In Gaza, cars could be heard back on the streets as the territory appeared to be springing back to life. Israeli military drones could still be heard buzzing overhead.
Late Wednesday, Islamic Jihad’s leader, Ziad al-Nakhalah, announced three conditions for an end to the fighting: an end to targeted killings, a halt in Israeli shootings of protesters at weekly demonstrations along the Israeli border and easing a 12-year-old Israeli blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority. Israel considers Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which both seek its destruction, to be terrorist groups.