Jerusalem, Aug 19: Heavily armed militants from Gaza infiltrated into southern Israel through Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Thursday, launching a series of coordinated attacks claiming seven lives, prompting a reprisal strike that killed six people in the Palestinian territory.
Militants armed with heavy weapons, guns and explosives launched three attacks targeting a passenger bus, a military patrol and a private car in the southern Eilat, leaving seven Israelis dead and dozens injured.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak blamed elements from Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the attacks in Eilat, close to the border with Egypt, and said the militants had entered Israeli territory through the Sinai peninsula, slamming Egypt for loosening control over the region.
Hours after the triple attacks, the Israeli Defence attacked terror targets in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, killing six Palestinians.IDF claimed chief of terrorist faction Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Kamal al-Nairab, was among those killed in the airstrike. Israel security had blamed PRC for the triple attacks today.
The attack in Eilat escalated tensions in the fragile region, with Barak vowing to respond “with all our strength and determination”.“This was a grave terror attack at multiple scenes. It reflects Egypt's failing hold on Sinai and the rise of terror elements,” Barak said.
“This terror attack originated from Gaza. We will exhaust all measures against the terrorists,” he said. In the evening, two people were critically wounded when gunfire erupted close to the site of the deadly attacks. The gunfire began during a press conference by Barak and IDF chief Benny Gantz, at the scene of the attacks, the Jerusalem Post said.
Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian territories continues to be hostile to the Jewish state. Gaza Strip was the centre of a three-week long Israeli bombing campaign that started on December 27, 2008 and left over 1000 Palestinians dead.
Earlier in the day, the first strike from Gaza militants came when a bus travelling from Israel's southern city of Be'ersheba to the Red Sea resort city of Eilat was ambushed by a three-man terror cell, security officials said. The three attackers opened fire from a sedan on the bus, which was carrying several soldiers returning to their bases. However, the driver continued driving under fire. As security forces and emergency teams carried the injured to hospital, a second attack was launched involving multiple roadside bombs and rocket fire at IDF forces patrolling the Israel Egypt border fence.
A third incident was reported in the afternoon involving yet another shooting on a bus and a private vehicle. Medics said seven people were killed in these attacks which forced authorities to impose roadblocks and shut down the airport deploying hundreds of troops. According to the Israel Defence Forces spokesperson's unit, soldiers were among the wounded in these incidents.
Defence Chief of Staff Lt Gen Benny Gantz and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino rushed to the Southern Command centre to discuss with Southern Command Chief Major-General Tal Russo immediate steps to counter the situation. PTI