Breaking: Four coordinated terror attacks in southern Israel; Update: Israel retaliates in Gaza

A series of attacks near the borders of Israel, Gaza, and Egypt have left an unknown number of casualties today, according to wire reports.  So far, there appear to have been four attacks, but the IDF warns that there may be more:

Israel’s Channel 10 TV reports a fourth attack in southern Israel.

There was no immediate confirmation of the shooting on Thursday from Israeli officials. Three attacks earlier near Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula left some dead and wounded, according to the military. The exact number of casualties was not immediately known.

The AP’s earlier report said that terrorists were not just firing light weapons:

Military spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai says Israeli security forces tracked down some of the assailants and exchanged fire with them. He says the attackers used heavy weapons, possibly mortars or anti-tank weapons, and explosive devices during the attacks.

My friend Carl in Jerusalem is live-blogging while collating attack reports:

Events still not deemed under control. The IDF believes there could still be terror cells hiding in the area waiting to attack.

Highways 10 (the blue line above) and 12 are closed by IDF order.

There is a battle going on now in the area. More below.

Yoseftal Hospital now reporting 29 wounded – 7 of whom were helicoptered to Soroka in Beersheva. The rest are being treated in Yoseftal. The bus included soldiers traveling home on weekend leave. Bus was traveling from Beersheva to Eilat.

IDF vehicle hit IED and its passengers were hurt.

I’ll update as more information comes in.  Interestingly, Carl also reports that authorities there don’t believe (for now) that Hamas conducted the attack.  However, Israel is holding Hamas responsible if they join the attack.  Carl also notes that this demonstrates that the Egyptian military isn’t controlling the border effectively any longer, as it seems that the attackers left Gaza through the Philadelphi gate and re-entered Israel on Highway 10.

Update: The AP connects the dots between the sudden “rare” violence in this area of Israel and the changed situation in the Sinai:

Assailants armed with heavy weapons, guns and explosives launched three attacks in quick succession in southern Israel near the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, killing at least five people and wounding about a dozen more, officials said.

The rare violence in that part of the country targeted a passenger bus, a military patrol and a private car, the officials said. Channel 10 TV reported a fourth attack, but there was no official confirmation or details. The military said a “large number” of assailants were working in multiple squads.

“We are talking about a terror squad that infiltrated into Israel,” said Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich. “This is a combined terrorist attack against Israelis.”

The violence near the resort city of Eilat stoked concerns about growing lawlessness in neighboring Sinai following the ouster in February of Egypt’s longtime autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak.

Carl noted that the bus driver reported seeing Egyptian army uniforms on the shooters, and the AP also reports the same thing.  The IDF doesn’ t believe that the Egyptian military had any role in the shootings, however.

Update II: Five dead, 25 wounded so far, according to the Jerusalem Post:

At least five people were reported dead and at least 25 injured in a three-stage terrorist attack along Israel’s border with Egypt on Thursday, which began when terrorists opened fire at an Egged bus traveling on Road 12 near Eilat.

The casualties were evacuated to Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat. A number of soldiers were among the casualties.

Several minutes later, a number of bombs went off next to an IDF patrol traveling along the border with Egypt. There were also reports of mortar fire from Egypt into Israel. The terrorists apparently then moved on to another spot and fired an anti-tank missile at another vehicle, injuring a number of passengers.

Magen David Adom said that terrorists attacked a bus and a private vehicle 20 kilometers north of the site of the first incident. Paramedics said five people there were mortally wounded in that attack.

Carl says the death toll is at seven.  The IDF is apparently convinced that the PA and Hamas didn’t participate in this attack, which might mean that Hamas is losing its grip in Gaza.

Update III: This didn’t take long.  The IDF has killed the leader of a terrorist group believed to have been responsible for the attacks with a strike in Gaza:

The IDF attacked terror targets in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, in response to athree-stage terrorist attack which killed seven Israelis and wounded dozens in the South earlier in the day.

Five Palestinians were killed in the joint IDF and Shin Bet strike.

Among those killed was the chief of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Kamal al-Nairab. The four others that were killed were also members of the terrorist faction .

Security sources said that the PRC was behind Thursday’s triple attack near Eilat. They added that the operatives had crossed from the Gaza Strip into Egypt and then into Isreal this morning to carry out the attack.

The IDF had advance but non-specific warning of the attacks, which is why they were positioned to conduct the strikes, says the Jerusalem Post.