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Eight killed in border attacks in Israel

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 Friday, 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 planning the attack.

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.

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.

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.

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