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Bus Attack, Military Retaliation Rock Southern Israel, Gaza

August 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
In southern Israel, squads of gunmen killed at least eight people and wounded 20 others in a series of strikes that drew swift retaliation from the Israeli military. Ray Suarez reports.
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RAY SUAREZ: Now, the attacks in southern Israel.

Squads of gunmen killed at least eight people and wounded 20 others in a series of strikes today and drew swift retaliation from Israel.

A tourist bus lay idled at the side of the road, filled with bullet holes. It was strafed with gunfire on its way toward the southern resort town of Eilat.

WOMAN (through translator): I was just talking to a guy sitting next to me, and we suddenly heard shots, and we immediately bent over, and that’s it. Pieces of glass were flying, and we realized some people were injured.

RAY SUAREZ: Some of the victims were airlifted to a nearby hospital. But the bus attack was quickly followed by two more coordinated assaults. Within minutes, an anti-tank missile blasted a private car, and a roadside bomb blew up Israeli soldiers on their way to help the bus victims.

Israeli officials immediately blamed Hamas militants based in Gaza. They charged, the attackers got into Israel by traveling through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

EHUD BARAK, Israeli defense minister (through translator): The Egyptian control grip over Sinai is weakening as a result of general events in Egypt. And this is probably why this attack, which probably originated from Gaza, struck Eilat. And we will act so that events like this will not happen again.

RAY SUAREZ: But Hamas, which controls Gaza, insisted it had nothing to do with the attack.

TAHER AL-NONO, Hamas spokesman (through translator): We deny that there is any relation between the Gaza Strip with what happened today in Eilat. And we consider Barak’s and the other occupation leaders’ threats as an attempt to express their internal crisis and transfer it to Gaza in an attempt to calm the situation with their people.

RAY SUAREZ: Within hours, the Israeli military launched an airstrike into southern Gaza. Medical officials said five militants and one child were killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored his government’s determination in a broadcast statement.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli prime minister (through translator): If the terror organizations think they can hit our civilians without any response, they will find out that Israel will exact its price, a very heavy price.

RAY SUAREZ: Across southern Israel this evening, security forces were on high alert. Officials said five of the attackers had been tracked down and killed.