EILAT, Israel — Gunmen launched a series of attacks Thursday in southern Israel, killing eight people and threatening to destabilize a volatile border region that includes the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula.
Israel blamed an armed Palestinian group from neighboring Gaza. Israeli forces killed five of the gunmen along the border with Egypt, the military said, and later launched an airstrike inside Gaza that killed five other militants from the same group as well as a child.
Three blasts shook Gaza early today, including one that killed a 13-year-old boy, according to a Gaza hospital official. But the Israeli military did not immediately confirm reports of three more airstrikes targeting a security compound, a home and the area of the smuggling tunnels crisscrossing the Gaza-Egypt border. The Israeli military said three of the men killed in Gaza had been involved in the attack.
Gunfire continued on both sides of the border late into the evening.
The attacks were the deadliest against Israelis since a gunman killed eight civilians in Jerusalem in 2008. They suggested that Egypt's recent political upheaval and a resulting power vacuum in Sinai had allowed militants to open a new front against Israel on the long-quiet frontier.
The attack began shortly after noon in southern Israel with gunfire at a civilian bus heading toward the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, currently at the height of the tourist season.
A number of passengers were hit, the military said. The gunmen had crossed the border and set up an ambush along a 300-yard strip, armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide bomb belts, according to the military.
The Israeli dead included six civilians and one soldier, according to the Israeli military's southern commander, Maj. Gen. Tal Russo.
Israeli soldiers eventually killed five attackers, the military said, and defense officials said three of the bodies were wired with explosives. It was not clear how many militants were involved or where they were from.
Egyptian security and Interior Ministry officials said a gunfight erupted on the border, and three Egyptians were killed, one police officer and two soldiers. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said the gunfire erupted while Israelis were chasing militants who were trying to re-enter Sinai. It was not clear if the gunfire at the Egyptians came from Israeli soldiers or the militants. The Israeli military had no comment.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned what she called "premeditated acts of terrorism against innocent civilians," and said the United States and Israel were "united in the fight against terror."