Terrorists who infiltrated southern Israel from the Egyptian Sinai on Thursday launched a two-hour assault on civilian vehicles and security forces near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat that left eight Israelis dead and dozens more wounded.
The attack began when at least three terrorists riddled a passing passenger bus with bullets, wounding at least 10 people. The bus continued to drive, and the terrorists pursued in their own vehicle. Israeli soldiers traveling on the bus reportedly exchanged fire with the terrorists as the two vehicles continued toward Eilat.
Around the same time, a large roadside bomb was detonated against an IDF patrol near the border with Egypt. One soldier was killed and others were wounded.
A third attack occured near the small community of Beer Ora, which sits on the main highway just a little further north from Eilat than the first two attacks. In the third assault, machine gun fire was also directed against a passenger bus and passing civilian vehicles. There were also reports that the terrorists fired at least one anti-tank missile or mortar shell.
The third attack saw the most casualties, with six killed and at least a dozen wounded.
Israeli forces pushed the terrorist cell further north, where they engaged in a brief but fierce gunbattle that left at least three of the infiltrators dead. The eighth Israeli fatality, that of a famed police sniper, presumably occurred during this battle.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed to hunt down the remainder of the attackers and those responsible for sending them.
Barak said he believes the attack originated from Gaza, which shares an often porous border with the Sinai. He also said the attack demonstrates Egypt's lack of control over its own territory.
It has long been warned that radical Islamic groups determined to destroy Israel - including Al Qaeda - were setting up bases of operations in the Sinai Peninsula, and had won many of the local Bedouin tribes to their cause.
Israelis have been repeatedly warned to avoid traveling to the Sinai Peninsula, which is home to several popular Red Sea resorts. But if terrorists are now crossing from Sinai into Israel, the Jewish state has a whole new problem on its hands.