EILAT, Israel — Gunmen who crossed from the Egyptian desert 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 along the Gaza-Egypt border.
Gunfire continued on both sides of the border late into the evening. After nightfall, Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-missile system intercepted a rocket fired by Gaza militants at the city of Ashkelon, the military said.
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.
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.
"We heard a shot and saw a window explode. I didn't really understand what was happening at first," passenger Idan Kaner told Israel's Channel 2 TV. "After another shot, there was chaos in the bus and everyone jumped on everyone else."
Within an hour, gunmen had riddled another passing bus and two cars with bullets and rigged a roadside bomb that detonated under an army jeep rushing to the scene. At the same time, mortar gunners in Gaza opened fire at soldiers along the Gaza-Israel border fence.