UPDATED: 1:00 PM (White House Statement added)
At least seven Israelis – including one soldier — were reportedly killed and at least 29 wounded today in five coordinated terrorist attacks in southern Israel.
The attacks included a suicide bombing and gunfire that targeted forces responding to the initial violence. The injured, including five classified as very serious, were taken to Joseftal Hospital in EIlat.
The violence occurred along Israel’s border with Egypt but Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the terrorists were from Gaza and showed the “weakening of Egyptian authority in the Sinai Peninsula” following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
At least seven terrorists were killed in exchanges of fire with Israeli soldiers that continued for more than six hours after the initial attack, an IDF spokesman told The Jewish Week. The entire area was ordered a closed military zone and all roads leading to Israel’s resort city of Eilat were closed.
In a statement on the White House web site Thursday, Press Secretary Kay Carney said "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."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call to Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak-Halevy promised that Israel would respond to the attacks.
"We’re talking about a serious incident in which Israeli citizens were hurt and the country’s sovereignty was harmed," he was quoted as saying.
The American Jewish Committee issued a statement expressing "outrage" at the attacks and said the Egyptians after recently opening their border with Hamas-controlled Gaza "have shown particular difficulty of late in controlling movement and activity in the Sinai."
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said the terrorists were large in number and “divided into several units.”
The first attack occurred shortly after noon when two or three terrorists in a passing car reportedly opened fire on Egged bus No. 392 carrying Israeli soldiers enroute to Eilat from Beersheba along Highway 12, about 25 miles north of Eilat near the Netafim Junction.
Several soldiers returned fire not only on the passing car but also reportedly at gunfire from inside the Egyptian border.
A total of 14 bus passengers were wounded from gunshot wounds to the arms and legs, one seriously; 20 others were treated for shock.
At about the same time, according to an IDF spokesman, a second civilian bus came under fire. There was no initial report of casualties.
The spokesman said that minutes later two Israeli civilian cars also came under fire. He said one of the cars carried a family of four, including two young children. They were reportedly uninjured. The second car was hit by an anti-tank missile that killed six occupants.
Meanwhile, an Israeli military patrol vehicle racing to the scene ran over an improvised explosive device near the Egyptian border. Several soldiers were injured, the spokesman said.
Five minutes later, mortar shells were reportedly fired at Israeli vehicles; no casualties were reported. At 1:10 p.m., an RPG rocket was fired at another Israeli vehicle; there were no reported injuries.
"This was a malicious attack on innocent civilians who were on their way to the known tourist destination city of Eilat for their summer vacation," the spokesman said. "The IDF will pursue those responsibile for this attack at all costs and will not allow any further harm to Israeli civilians."
The United Nations issued a statement on behald of Secretary-General Ban Ki-MoonThursday morning condemning the attack. "He expresses his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured," said the statement. "The Secretary-General hopes that the perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice. He is concerned at the risk of escalation and calls for all to act with restraint."