The army bombed a target in Gaza Thursday evening in response to four terror attacks that killed seven Israelis and injured 31 in the south.
The IDF says the target was a Rafah building used by terrorists, and Palestinian sources reported six dead in the strike, among them two senior operatives in the Popular Resistance Committees.
Full coverage of the attacks:
The two senior operatives are, according to Palestinian sources, Abu Oud al-Nirab, the commander of the group's military wing, and Khaled Shaath, a senior member of the terror group.
Preliminary reports say IDF aircraft bombed a house, killing the two men and four others inside. Earlier, the IDF scattered fliers in the area, sources said. It remains unclear what the fliers said.
Palestinian news agencies reported that the PRC was responsible for the attacks in the south. A spokesman for the group threatened retaliation for the strike.
Victims treated at site of attack on bus (Photo: Yossi Ben)
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, announced that it will retaliate against any Israeli offensive on the Gaza strip.
A spokesman for the brigades, Abu Obeida, said: "Any Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip will be considered an act of aggression. We will respond to any such aggression with all our might."
Earlier Palestinian sources reported that Hamas' interior minister ordered the the security forces headquarters in Gaza to be immediately evacuated for fear of IDF retaliation.
It was also reported that Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing until further notice. The central cargo channel was shut immediately after the terror attack.
Hamas voiced concerns that Israel "is trying to export the crisis that has befallen it, and transfer it to Gaza."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has hinted that harsh retaliation is to follow, saying while visiting the south that "Gaza is a source of terror, and we will take full-force action against them."
"There will be a price tag to this event," he said. "Gaza will be severely hit. It is clear that the plan (for the attack) came from terror organizations in Gaza…The IDF will soon prepare for a response."
Injured being evacuated from attack site (Photo: Herzl Yosef)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received updates from the field and spoke with the mayor of Eilat, after which he released a statement.
"This is a serious event, in which Israelis as well as the sovereignty of the state were harmed. Israel will respond properly." Netanyahu's office called the attackers "radical Islamist elements" and said the assaults were "an escalation of violence".
Meanwhile the Palestinian Maan News Agency reported that Egyptian forces were scouring the border with Israel in recent hours in an effort to retrace the steps of the terrorists who carried out the terror attacks.
According to the report, which quoted senior security officials, the Egyptian authorities have raised the alert level along the border with Israel and established a large team that includes military officers and central defense establishment officials to deal with the incident. The Egyptian forces are scouring a 25 kilometer stretch of the border, searching for tire and shoe sole marks in order to see whether the terrorists entered Israel from Sinai.
An Egyptian security official denied Thursday that Egypt had any involvement in the attacks. The official told Egyptian media that the armed terrorists operated from within Israel's borders.
"Egypt was in no way involved in the incident, since it is difficult to penetrate the Egypt-Israel border. Moreover, it is impossible to open fire from the Egyptian side to Israel because of the distance," he said.
South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda also rejected claims suggesting the terror attack shooting originated on the Egyptian side of the border. "There is no connection between Egypt or Sinai to the attack in Israel," he said.
The mayor of the eastern Sinai town Nuweiba, Al-Arabi al-Husseini, also denied the occurrence of any shooting in his region or near the border, and said that the situation there is stable and calm.
Around noon Thursday an Egged bus traveling from Beersheba to Eilat was ambushed by a three-man terror cell. Over a dozen people were wounded in the attack, which took place on Highway 12, about 30km north of Eilat, near the Ein Netafim junction.
Soon after that a second incident was reported, involving multiple roadside bombs and rocket fire at IDF forces patrolling the Israel-Egypt border fence.
A third incident was reported at around 1pm, involving yet another shooting on a bus and a private vehicle traveling south. Five people reportedly suffered mortal wounds in the attack.
Elior Levy is Ynet's Palestinian affairs correspondent. Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report