Seven Israelis dead in series of attacks by Gaza militants

Seven Israelis dead in series of attacks by Gaza militants Jerusalem: At least six people were killed and dozens injured when terrorists launched multi-pronged attacks in southern Israel, prompting the Jewish state to warn that it would respond "with all our strength and determination."

Defence Minister Ehud Barak blamed elements from Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the attacks in Eilat, close to the border with Egypt.

Barak vowed that his country would respond "with all our strength and determination" to the attack that prompted the authorities to declare a state of high alert across the country.

Terrorists armed with heavy weapons, guns and explosives launched three attacks targeting a passenger bus, a military patrol and a private car in Eilat.

"This was a grave terror attack at multiple scenes. It reflects Egypt's failing hold on Sinai and the rise of terror elements," Barak said, adding, "This terror attack originated from Gaza. We will exhaust all measures against the terrorists."

The attacks forced the authorities to impose roadblocks and shut down the airport deploying hundreds of troops.

In the first incident, Egged bus number 392, travelling from Israel's southern city of Be'ersheba to the Red Sea resort city of Eilat was ambushed by a three-man terror cell, security and rescue officials said.

The three attackers opened fire from a sedan on the bus, which carried several soldiers returning to their bases. The bus driver continued driving under fire, preventing the gunmen from inflicting more damage.

Security forces as well as Magen David Adom emergency services' teams carried the injured to Yoseftal Medical Centre in Eilat.

The first attack was soon followed by a second incident, involving multiple roadside bombs and rocket fire at IDF forces patrolling the Israel Egypt border fence.

A third incident was reported at around 1 pm local time, involving yet another shooting on a bus and a private vehicle travelling south. Five people reportedly suffered mortal wounds in the attack.

According to the Israel Defence Forces spokesperson's unit, soldiers were among the wounded in these incidents. IDF Chief of Staff Lt Gen Benny Gantz and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino were on the way to GOC Southern Command to discuss with Southern Command Chief Major-General Tal Russo on immediate steps to control the situation.

All of the roads leading to Eilat were shut down as security forces started canvassing the area in search of suspects.

IDF aircrafts as well as extensive Counter-Terror Unit forces were also assisting in the search.

The Eilat Police have ordered an emergency deployment in the area, and a situation room has been set up at the Yoseftal Hospital, which has declared the incident a mass casualty event.

Egyptian security forces have been alerted and are reportedly conducting a simultaneous manhunt. The Ovda Airfield has been meanwhile closed to all flights.

Israel's leading news portal Ynet reported that Jordan had passed a message to Israel suggesting their intelligence indicated that a terror cell was plotting such an attack shortly before the attacks. The warning was in tow with Israel's defence establishment's indications of a clear and present threats of terror attacks in the southern sector.

Some security sources pointed out that less than 10 per cent of the security fence between Israel and Egypt has been built despite the approval of the budget over 18 months ago.

Segments near Netafim and Carmit are still open, left completely insecure and without the promised security fence, they said. So far the Israel Defence Forces have been trying to manage the situation by monitoring the area with cameras and radar scans.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a budget of around USD 28 million in January 2010 for a construction plan to build a security fence at two segments along the Egyptian border, one near the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah and another near the southern city of Eilat.

The fence was expected to be completed by the end of 2012 to cover some 230 kilometres. So far a fence has only been build along 20 kilometres and by the end of 2011 officials expect to finish work on a total of 100 kilometres only.