After a series of attacks (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) killed seven people in southern Israel, the Israeli army has confirmed carrying out air strikes over the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said six people died in the air strikes.
Around midday on Thursday the attacks begun when gunmen opened fire on a bus about 20 kilometers from the Israeli city of Eilat, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border (see map below).
Seven Israelis were killed and dozens wounded by gunmen with heavy weapons and explosives in the attacks which lasted for about three hours, news agencies reported. Several of the attackers were killed by Israeli security forces in a gunbattle, said military spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai.
The attacks seemed to be coordinated because they came close together in both time and location. They are one of the boldest strikes against Israel in years.
According to the Israeli Defence Forces further north several mortar shells “were simultaneously fired from the Gaza Strip at soldiers conducting routine maintenance work on the security fence on the Israel-Egypt border.”
“We are talking about a terror squad that infiltrated into Israel,” said Israeli military spokeswoman Colonel Avital Leibovich. “This is a combined terrorist attack against Israelis.”
‘Full force and determination’
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said “this is a serious terrorist attack in a number of locations.”
“The event reflects the weakening of Egyptian control over Sinai and the expansion of the activity of terrorist forces. The origin of these acts of terror is in Gaza and we will act against them in our full force and determination.”
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it has “specific and concrete information that these terrorists came out of Gaza.”
Although Gaza’s Hamas government denied involvement for the Eilat attacks, Ahmad Yousef, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said Hamas “praises the attack since it attacked [Israeli] soldiers and came in the right time while Israel is attacking Gaza almost every day”.
Mr Yousef’s answered Mr Barak’s threat against Gaza by saying that “since the whole political process is frozen, military escalation is the logical development.”
When asked by Al Jazeera why southern Israel had been the target he said that Eilat is “a tactical choice for attacks because the resistance groups look for suitable places and times for their attacks.”