JERUSALEM – Gaza militants launched barrages of rockets into Israel early Friday and Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Palestinian territory in the aftermath of the deadliest attack against Israelis in three years.
On Thursday, gunmen who appear to have originated in Gaza and who crossed into southern Israel through the Egyptian desert ambushed civilian vehicles traveling on a remote road in southern Israel, killing eight people. Six were civilians, and two were members of Israeli security forces responding to the incursion.
The attack signaled a new danger for Israel from its border with the Sinai Peninsula, long quiet under the rule of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was deposed in February and the desert of the Sinai Peninsula, always restive and largely controlled by Bedouin tribes, has become increasingly lawless.
Israel responded hours after the attack with an airstrike that killed five members of the Palestinian group that Israel said was behind it, an organization known as the Popular Resistance Committees. The dead included the group’s leader. A spokesman for the group, Abu Mujahid, would not confirm or deny responsibility for the attack inside Israel, but said militants would avenge the killing of the men.
Militants in Gaza launched at least 10 rockets into Israel on Friday, the military said. One, aimed at the city of Ashkelon, was intercepted by the new Israeli anti-missile system known as Iron Dome. Another hit the port city of Ashdod and wounded six Israelis, according to Israeli emergency services.
Israel’s south has been equipped with early warning systems and bomb shelters over years of rocket fire from Gaza, and those measures have served to keep casualties low.
Hamas denied any connection with the attacks, but hurriedly evacuated all of its security facilities Thursday in anticipation of more Israeli retaliation. Those strikes continued through the night, targeting what the military said were smuggling tunnels and sites used by gunmen.
Hamas officials said two children, 3 and 13, were killed in the Israeli strikes.