"Five people were killed and dozens were wounded Thursday in a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets approximately 20 kilometers [12 miles] north of the southern city of Eilat, close to the border with Egypt," Israel's Haaretz.com is reporting.
The Jerusalem Post is also saying there were at least five deaths, and adds that it appears to have been "a three-stage terrorist attack along Israel's border with Egypt."
"The attacks began when gunmen fired at an Israeli bus which was travelling near the Egyptian border. Several gunmen ambushed the civilian bus, with security forces later going in pursuit of the attackers."
We'll update this post as the story develops.
Update at 4:47 p.m. ET. Israeli Ambassador on NPR:
With media reports now saying that at least seven Israelis died in Thursday's attacks, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, tells All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel that Israel holds Hamas responsible.
"Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza; it claims sovereignty over Gaza, if you will. And this particular group, the Popular Resistance Committee, is closely aligned with Hamas — it's not a breakaway group."
Asked if Israel holds Egypt responsible for the attack, Oren says, "No, we don't."
But, he added, Israel is also concerned about what he calls "growing instability in Sinai," noting that since the Arab Spring, Egyptian security forces have been preoccupied with keeping order in the country.
Update at 3:56 p.m. ET. Israel Responds:
Israel launched an air attack in the Gaza strip this evening. The Israel Air Force attack, reported The Jerusalem Post, killed the leadership of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), which Israel says orchestrated the attacks.
The Post adds:
The PRC terrorists killed in the retaliatory IAF airstrike included the head of the terror group Kamal Nirab, who the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said, personally directed and planned the attack.
Another terrorist killed in the strike was identified as Amas Hamed, commander of the PRC's military wing and a resident of Rafah. The Shin Bet said that Hamed was involved in the abduction of Gilad Schalit over five years ago and oversaw numerous terror attacks against Israel including suicide bombings and rocket attacks.
Two other known PRC terrorists, including one who was also involved in Schalit's abduction, were also killed in the airstrike.
"The terrorists were directly involved in the attacks along the Israeli-Egyptian border," a security official said.
Update at 3:37 p.m. ET. White House, State Department Issue Statements:
The White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both issued statements condemning the attacks in Israel.
"Our deepest condolences go to the victims, their families and loved ones, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery. The U.S. and Israel stand united against terror and we hope that those behind this attack will be brought to justice swiftly," the White House said in a statement.
In her statement, Clinton said the security situation in the Sanai Peninsula needed to be addressed.
"Recent commitments by the Egyptian Government to address the security situation in the Sinai are important and we urge the Egyptian Government to find a lasting resolution," Clinton said.
Update at 12:57 p.m. ET. Firefight Continues:
The AP just moved this urgent bulletin:
A senior Israeli defense official says gunfire is continuing into the evening from both sides of the Israel-Egypt border.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai says the violence that erupted Thursday afternoon when Palestinian attackers infiltrated Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert is not over.
Update at 11:43 a.m. ET. Netanyahu Says Attacks 'Extremely Serious':
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today's attacks "violate Israel's sovereignty."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) stated that the attacks require an Israeli response, and that Kadima will support the government's actions.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that the source of combined terrorist attacks that took place earlier in the day was the Gaza Strip.
"This is a serious terror attack that took place in several locations," Barak said during a situation assessment following the terrorist attacks. "The incident shows the weakening Egyptian grip on Sinai and the widening operation of terrorists there. The source of these terror acts is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force."
Update at 10:34 a.m. ET. A Timeline Of The Attacks:
Israeli authorities have provided a clearer picture of what happened during the attacks in southern Israel. According to Haaretz, the first attack happened at around noon local time, when people in a car drove by and shot at a bus.
Then when Israeli Defense Forces arrived at the scene, a mortar was fired, but caused no casualties. Then an anti-tank missile was fired toward a private vehicle and then a second anti-tank missile was fired on another private vehicle. That one, reports Haaretz, killed six.
The BBC reports that this is the first major attack on Israel's border with Egypt for several years. It adds:
Israeli officials said the gunmen came from the Gaza Strip and had entered Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert.
"The real source of the terror is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and determination," said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
He also said that the "incident underscores the weak Egyptian hold on Sinai and the broadening of the activities of terrorists".