Gaza's Islamic Jihad group announces ceasefire with Israel, brings to an end two days of heavy fighting that killed 32 Palestinians

The Associated Press

Gaza City: Gaza's militant Islamic Jihad group announced a cease-fire with Israel early on Thursday, ending two days of heavy fighting that left at least 32 Palestinians dead.

Spokesman Musab al-Berim said that the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5.30 am. But there was no immediate confirmation from Israel, and shortly after his announcement, two rockets were fired, setting off air-raid sirens in southern Israel.

Al-Berim said the cease-fire was based on a list of demands presented by his group late on Wednesday, including a halt to Israeli targeted killings of the group's leaders. The fighting broke out early on Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander of the militant group.

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. However, 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 32 deaths, including a 7-year-old boy and six members of a single-family. The rocket fire crippled life across southern Israel, as nonstop air-raid sirens cancelled 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.

Israeli media, citing the military's Home Front Command, said safety restrictions remained in effect early Thursday. But 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 on 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.

Israel rarely acknowledges deals with Gaza militant groups, and shortly after al-Berim's announcement, two rockets were fired out of Gaza, setting off sirens in southern Israel. It was not clear who fired the rockets or whether the launches were intentional or misfires caused by electronic timers. Several militant groups in Gaza possess the weapons.

But UN and Islamic Jihad officials were in touch on Wednesday with Egyptian mediators, who typically broker deals to end fighting in Gaza and Israel did not respond to the rocket launch.

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