UPDATE: Gunmen kill at least 7 in Israel; Israel targets Gaza militants
Gunmen killed seven people in southern Israel on Thursday in attacks along the Egyptian border and Israel responded with an air strike in the Gaza Strip that killed six Palestinians, including the leaders of a group it blamed for the violence.
The series of assaults on a desert road north of Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat drew Israeli accusations that Egypt’s new rulers were losing their grip on the porous frontier.
Israel said the attackers infiltrated from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Sinai desert, despite stepped up efforts by Egyptian security forces in recent days to rein in Palestinian and Islamist radicals.
“This was a grave incident in which Israelis and Israeli sovereignty were harmed. Israel will respond accordingly,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. He was due to speak further on the most deadly attack in Israel since 2008 in a televised address later in the day.
Israeli military commanders said six civilians and one soldier were killed in attacks on two buses, a car and an army vehicle. Another 25 people were wounded.
The violence, which began in the early afternoon, stretched into the evening. As the Israeli military’s chief of staff and Defence Minister Ehud Barak were briefing reporters at the scene, ambulances raced away to what reporters said was another attack by gunmen in which two people were wounded.
The military said seven gunmen were killed in southern Israel, including two who blew themselves up in suicide attacks on one of the buses and in a confrontation with soldiers.
Egyptian soldiers apparently shot dead two gunmen, the military said.
Hours later, Israel struck against the Popular Resistance Committees, an armed faction that often operates independently of Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The Israeli military said the PRC was behind the border attack.
The PRC said its commander, Kamal al-Nairab, his deputy, Immad Hammad, and three other members were killed in an Israeli air strike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.
The faction vowed “double” revenge against Israel for the attack, which local Palestinians said also killed a nine-year-old son of the owner of the house.
Earlier, in an interview with Israel Radio, bus driver Benny Bilbaski said he had seen two men in fatigues shooting at his vehicle.
“I saw that there were wounded on the bus but I continued to drive on, looking straight, not looking right or left. Once I got a kilometre past the area and I was out of range we took care of the wounded,” he said.
Barak said the incident “reflects the weakening of Egypt’s hold in the Sinai and the broadening of activities by terror elements”.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said Israel had “specific and precise information that these terrorists who targeted Israelis today came out of the Gaza Strip”.
Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Egypt; Editing by Jon Hemming