Series of deadly attacks in southern Israel
So far seven Israelis, including four civilians from the same family and three soldiers, are reported to have been killed and at least 30 wounded, the Israel Hayom local tabloid reported. Two children aged four and seven were among those killed.
Israeli forces engaged several terror groups after the initial attacks and at least seven terrorists were reported killed in the exchange of fire.
Meanwhile, the Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef has reportedly denied any involvement by his group. But security sources in Gaza said Hamas had ordered the evacuation of many of its facilities, including police headquarters in the territory, in expectation of Israeli Air Force attacks, AFP reported.
Israel clearly believes that the origin of these attacks is in Gaza, and retaliatory action of some kind is expected soon, as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has issued a statement saying it will pursue at all costs all of those responsible for this action, RT’s Paula Slier reported from Tel-Aviv.
At the same time, all non-Palestinian United Nations personnel have reportedly been mobilized for an evacuation from Gaza. The Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed.
Egypt has also denied responsibility for the attacks and offered assistance with investigation. In the wake of the attacks, Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza.
The army is monitoring the security situation along the border with Egypt and has vowed to "hunt down" the perpetrators of Thursday's attack, Aljazeera quoted Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, as saying.
Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli army spokesman, also advised residents to avoid traveling to surrounding areas where attacks have been reported.
Three deadly attacks came in quick succession
The first attack was a shooting at a bus traveling from Beer Sheva to Eilat, near the community of Netafim.
The bus was traveling through Netafim checkpoint located some 12 kilometers north of Eilat on the Egyptian border when the attack occurred. Reports said most of the passengers on the bus were Israeli soldiers who are residents of Eilat and were going home from their respective bases for the weekend.
The shots were allegedly fired from a moving vehicle. Shortly after the bus attack, IDF engaged in a shootout with the armed men near the scene of incident. Ten passengers on board the bus suffered mostly moderate injuries.
The second blast was reportedly heard in the area close by when an Israeli military vehicle ran over a roadside bomb causing serious injuries to at least five people.
Following the attack, mortars were fired from the Egyptian border.
Shortly after, an anti-tank missile was launched at a private car, at a location approximately 20 kilometers north of the first shooting on the passenger bus, a police spokesperson said according to Aljazeera.
The Israeli rescue services said five people were critically wounded in the attack on that car, the Associated Press reported.
Security forces searched for the suspected vehicle and set up barricades in the area. Once they caught up with the vehicle a shootout between the IDF and the gunmen erupted.
Two IDF helicopters were called to the scene in order to evacuate the wounded to a nearest hospital.
Many of the wounded were initially taken to Yoseftal hospital in Eilat, and then transferred to Soroka hospital in Beersheba.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV has reported a fourth attack by gunmen near the border with Egypt, the Associated Press reported. However, there has been no official confirmation that the shoot-out was connected to three earlier attacks.
"The real source of the terror is in Gaza” – minister
"The incident underscores the weakness of Egypt’s hold on Sinai and the broadening of the activities of terrorists," the Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said in a statement. "The real source of the terror is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and determination."
The Israeli army has no doubt that the attack was carried out by terrorists. "This was a complex and well-planned attack," said Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli army spokesman.
Israeli experts describe the current situation in the Sinai Peninsula as chaotic and full of anarchy and some people fear it could spark another Israeli-Gaza war operation.
Last week Egypt sent over 1,000 troops to the Sinai Peninsula to try to root out militants. It was the second such mission since the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak fell, and that operation was authorized by Israel, which is increasingly talking about large shipments of arms and equipmentmaking their way into Gaza.
The Israeli-Egyptian border is a long frontier which is not patrolled as frequently as its borders with other countries because of the peace treaty with Egypt.