Jerusalem, Aug. 18 – Terrorists, thought to have come from the Gaza Strip, killed at least eight Israelis and wounded as many as 40 others on Thursday in multiple coordinated attacks on public buses and private cars just north of the Red Sea tourist town of Eilat.
“The attacks included heavy fire on a bus followed by heavy fire on two private vehicles and an additional bus,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Eytan Buchman said. Of the eight dead, six were civilians – four from the same family – and two were soldiers.
Buchman said a roadside bomb also was detonated against IDF troops and mortar shells were fired at soldiers doing routine maintenance work on the security fence between Israel and Gaza. Terrorists in Gaza also fired three missiles. They also launched two rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon; one was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense shield. The other one hit Ashkelon but there were no injuries.
After running battles, Israeli special forces killed seven of the terrorists responsible for the attacks.
Several hours later, yet another gun battle erupted near the site of the original incident and two more Israelis were injured while an unknown number of terrorists were killed.
Said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “We all witnessed today an attempt to escalate the terrorist war against Israel by launching attacks from the Sinai. If there is someone who thinks that the State of Israel will let this pass, he is mistaken. This is a serious event during which Israelis were hurt and which Israeli sovereignty was attacked.”
“I have set out a principle - when the citizens of Israel are attacked, we respond immediately and with strength,” Netanyahu said. “That principle was implemented today. Those who gave the order to murder our citizens, while hiding in Gaza, are no longer among the living. If the terrorist organizations believe that they can attack our citizens and get away with it, they will soon learn how wrong they are.”
Israel believes Palestinian terrorists crossed the porous border separating Gaza from Egypt and managed to infiltrate Israeli territory from Egyptian-controlled Sinai. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a fundamentalist organization armed and financed by Iran. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. The group welcomed the attacks but declined to take responsibility for them.
"I don't think Hamas is behind these attacks, but we praise them since they were against soldiers," said Ahmed Yousef, a senior member of the organization. Nevertheless, Hamas shuttered its facilities in Gaza and high-level members went underground following the attacks.
Hours afterward, it was still difficult to determine the exact chronology of events. However, it appears that the first attack, which occurred around noon local time, was a drive-by shooting targeting Egged bus No. 392, about 12 miles north of Eilat. Additionally, the IDF said a terrorist blew himself up in the vicinity of the bus.
When IDF units arrived at the scene, they were hit by at least one IED (improvised explosive device). Just over an hour later, terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at a private car, injuring several people. Minutes later, another cell fired a second anti-tank missile at a vehicle, killing six people.
The bus driver reported that the vehicle also came under fire from across the Egyptian border, but Egyptian officials have said there was no fire from their side.
"The incident shows the weakening Egyptian grip on Sinai and the widening operation of terrorists there,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “The source of these terror acts is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force."
Egypt opened the border during the summer allowing relatively free passage into its territory. Dozens of smuggling tunnels still exist under the frontier.
Israel has been at peace with Egypt since 1979 but it is no longer clear whether the Egyptian authorities have the ability or the will to combat Islamic terrorist groups bent on attacking Israel.
The White House issued a statement, saying: “We condemn the brutal terrorist attacks in southern Israel today in the strongest terms. Our deepest condolences go to the victims, their families and loved ones, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery. The U.S. and Israel stand united against terror and we hope that those behind this attack will be brought to justice swiftly.”