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Israel and Islamic Jihad cease fire following heavy Gaza fighting

Israel and the militant Islamic Jihad group have reached a ceasefire to end the heaviest Gaza battle in several months, killing at least 34 Palestinians, including eight children, and paralyzing parts of Israel.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Berim said the Egyptian brokerage took effect at 5.30am on Thursday. An Israeli military spokesman tweeted that the Gaza operation "is over".

Some restrictions were lifted for residents of southern Israel, and traffic returned to the streets of the Palestinian coastal area.

Israel hailed the operation as a victory and defended its policy of targeting militants in their homes despite civilian deaths, while Islamic Jihad said it had led Israel to agree to stop fire on the basis of several demands, including stops for Israel's targeted killing of the group's leaders.

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<figcaption>Palestinians check damage to house targeted at Israeli missiles in Gaza City (Khalil Hamra / AP)</figcaption></figure>
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Israeli military spokesman Colonel Avichay Adraee did not confirm such an agreement, citing only Israeli performance in the fighting on Twitter, while Israel's foreign minister said targeted killings of militants would continue.

The fighting broke out early on Tuesday after Israel killed a senior command of the Iranian-backed militant group, which is said to have been behind a number of rocket attacks and which Israel is said to have planned a cross-border infiltration.

Israel's rare targeted killings sparked the fiercest battle with Gaza militants since May. Islamic Jihad fired 450 rockets against Israel, which responded with scores of air strikes.

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<figcaption>Israeli police remove rocket fired from Gaza Strip (Tsafrir Abayov / AP)</figcaption></figure>
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Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group, which is much larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, got out of the latest escalation – a sign that it would be short.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the policy of targeted killings had "proven itself" and would continue.

"Everyone who was a top military official who was ready to execute and involved in terror or rocket fire against Israel was removed," he told the Israeli Army radio. "And we intend to continue with this."

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<figcaption>A factory hit by a rocket in Sderot, southern Israel (Tsafrir Abayov / AP)</figcaption></figure>
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Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned Gaza militants that they were not safe anywhere.

"A terrorist trying to harm Israeli citizens will not be able to sleep properly, not in his home and not in his bed and in no hiding place," he said in a statement.

Military spokesman Colonel Jonathan Conricus said at least 23 militants were hit and defended attacks on their private homes, saying Islamic Jihad commanders used their residence to store weapons, making them legitimate targets.

Palestinian officials said 34 people were killed, including at least 18 militants. They said eight children, including a couple of seven-year-olds, and three women were among the dead.

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<figcaption>Mourners carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant Abdullah Al-Belbesi (Khalil Hamra / AP)</figcaption></figure>
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The rocket fire crippled life in southern Israel and the country's heartland in and around Tel Aviv, as non-stop raids sirens canceled the school, forcing people to stay indoors.

At least three people were easily injured from shattered or broken glass. Most rockets landed in open areas or were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

Much of Gaza resembled a ghost town with almost no vehicles on the roads except for ambulances that evacuated the wounded.

Shortly after Mr Al-Berim's announcement, at least two rockets were fired from Gaza, firing sirens into southern Israel. It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets or whether the launches were intentional or unfortunate.

But Islamic Jihad said it was obliged to end the fighting and the addition of the fire was likely because words had not been spread to all members about stopping violence.

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