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Adel Zaanoun and Mai Yaghi

Gaza truce holds as Palestinians, Israelis count deadly cost

Children stand amidst the rubble of a building hit by an Israeli air strike in Deir al-Balah in the centre of the Gaza Strip. ©AFP

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Calm returned to Gaza Sunday as a fragile ceasefire ending five days of fighting held, leaving Palestinians and Israelis to count the cost of cross-border fire which has killed dozens.

Fishermen took to their boats in the coastal Palestinian enclave, as Gazans emerged from sheltering in their homes during the fierce exchange of fire.

The fighting broke out Tuesday with Israeli strikes on the Islamic Jihad militant group.It ceased late Saturday following days of truce talks led by Egypt.

As the skies fell silent, residents were left to mourn the 33 people killed in the Gaza Strip, as well as the two in Israel -- a Palestinian labourer from the blockaded territory and an elderly Israeli.

After the ceasefire took effect, ambulances and fire trucks drove in convoy in Gaza while Palestinians gathered in the streets to celebrate.

More than 50 homes were destroyed and around 950 people displaced in Gaza, said the United Nations citing local officials.

"We're on the street, there's no home for my children or their children," said Mohammed al-Louh, whose house was destroyed by Israeli strikes.

"After the ceasefire, we have an ongoing tragedy because of the great scale of the destruction," his relative said, standing beside the rubble.

Medics said 190 people were wounded in Gaza and 30 in Israel -- seven with injuries resulting from Palestinian rocket fire and the rest while heading to shelters.

'It will begin again'

Authorities on Sunday lifted movement restrictions imposed on Israelis living near the Gaza border.

In the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon, resident Michelle Weiss warned the fighting is "not finished".

"Now I'm free, now I can go out, go to the sea, go to walk, but I know it will begin again," she told AFP by the beach.

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland welcomed the truce and said he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries".

Sunday also saw Israel re-open its two crossings with Gaza, also paving the way for supplies of medicine, food and fuel to reach the impoverished territory.

The closure had affected Palestinians with work permits or permission to access essential medical treatment not available in Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli-led blockade since Islamist group Hamas rose to power in 2007.

'Quiet met with quiet'

While Israel and Islamic Jihad committed to the ceasefire, both warned they would not hesitate to resume fire if the other side violated the agreement.

"Quiet will be met with quiet," the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

"Today Israel's enemies in Gaza and far beyond know that even if they try to hide, we can –- and will -- get to them," the premier said at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, calling the military operation "perfect".

Tariq Salmi, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, said if Israel "commits any foolish act or any assassination...the resistance will resume where it left off".

There were multiple failed rounds of truce talks led by Egypt, sparking fears the conflict could escalate before a deal was reached, a diplomatic source close to the negotiations told AFP.

Lebanese politician Bassel al-Hassan was a "key facilitator" in contacting the Islamic Jihad leadership and getting the talks back on track, said the source, who was not authorised to speak publicly to the media.

Hassan chairs the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, an inter-governmental agency which confirmed his "instrumental role" in facilitating talks between Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhala and truce mediators.

"We managed to make certain arrangements so that there was a communication channel with the UN and the Egyptians," said a committee official, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivities of the negotiations.

But as calm returned in Gaza, violence persisted in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli forces raided central Nablus early Sunday, sparking clashes with Palestinian residents, according to an AFP photographer.

An army statement said troops had arrested two people suspected of shooting at soldiers in the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Israeli strikes on Gaza killed at least six top figures from Islamic Jihad, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

At least six children and multiple civilians were also among the dead in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad responded to the Israeli strikes with volleys of rocket fire, prompting sirens to blare.

An army official said Sunday that militants fired 1,468 projectiles at Israel, of which 1,139 crossed into Israel's air space, with the army intercepting over 430 rockets.

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