Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad have agreed to an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, halting the worst bout of fighting in months.
However, later on Thursday, a barrage of at least five rockets were fired out of Gaza, sounding air raid sirens in southern Israel. It was not immediately clear if the renewed launches would restart confrontations.
The truce had gone into effect from 5.30am local time (0330 GMT), hours after medical officials said an Israeli bombing had killed eight members of a Palestinian family, including five children, who were sleeping at their family home.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab Al-Braim announced the agreement. It came roughly 48 hours after Israel sparked the fighting when it assassinated the faction’s top Gaza commander and his wife in an airstrike. Israel’s army had accused Baha Abu al-Ata of multiple recent attacks, calling him a “ticking bomb”.
A total of 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians, were killed as Israel bombarded Gaza for two days. In the same time, around 400 rockets were launched by militants into Israel, causing panic as civilians fled for bomb shelters.
Israel’s military said its Iron Dome defence system, which intercepts incoming projectiles, had a 90% success rate in downing rockets heading for residential areas. There were no Israeli deaths, although three people were wounded by shrapnel or debris. One rocket narrowly missed cars on a busy motorway.
While the country rarely acknowledges it makes deals with organisations it deems terrorists, Israel said it would observe a quid-pro-quo truce, and airstrikes appeared to have stopped. Emergency regulations imposed on Israeli civilians within range of Gaza rockets, including restrictions on moving around, were also being eased.
“Quiet will be answered with quiet,” foreign minister Israel Katz told Army Radio. Israeli targeted killings “will not cease”, he added.
In Gaza, the ministry of health said an Israeli missile strike killed eight members the Abu Malhous family, including five children and two women, when their family home in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip was struck.
The Israeli army later announced that one of the dead, Ramsi Abu Malhous, was Palestinian rocket commander.
A United Nations Middle East peace envoy, who had mediated a truce alongside Egypt, warned the Gaza calm could easily break down.
“The coming hours and days will be critical. ALL must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed. The Middle East does not need more wars,” tweeted Nickolay Mladenov.
Israel and militants in Gaza have frequently clashed during the past two years, with Israeli jets and helicopters bombing the strip while Palestinian fighters launch projectiles on nearby Israeli towns and cities. Normally the flare-ups die down after a day or two.
This week’s fighting was unusual, however, in that Hamas, the dominant faction that governs Gaza and has fought three wars with Israel, remained out of the exchanges.
Israel normally holds Hamas accountable for any attacks originating out of Gaza, but the two sides agreed to a longterm ceasefire earlier this year. That deal appeared to be holding and Israel said this week that its targets were confined to Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second largest militant faction.
Army spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, suggested that the targeted killing of Abu al-Ata, codenamed “Black Belt”, was carried out because the commander was planning attacks that threatened the status quo with Hamas.
His killing, Conricus said, was decided around 10 days ago, “in order to stabilise the area and in order to get an obstacle for civility and for different diplomatic arrangements … out of the way.”
Reuters contributed to this report