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The Israeli military says assailants have carried out three consecutive attacks in southern Israel near the Egyptian border, killing and wounding a number of people. Egyptian security sources in Sinai deny that the attacks were launched from Egypt.
The attacks on Thursday targeted a passenger bus, a private car and a group of soldiers. The number of dead and wounded was not immediately known.
South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda denied reports that gunmen had opened fire on Israeli vehicles from Sinai, according to state television.
"The South Sinai governor denied there was any gunfire from Taba toward Eilat port," state television reported, referring to the Egyptian Red Sea resort across the border from the Israeli port city of Eilat.
"The incident underscores the weak Egyptian hold on Sinai and the broadening of the activities of terrorists," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement. "The real source of the terror is in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and determination."
In the first attack, gunmen targeted a bus on Israel's Highway 12, a secluded desert road, about 30 km (18 miles) north of the Red Sea resort city of Eilat. The road passes within meters of the border with Egypt. At least five people were wounded in that attack.
The driver of the bus said he had seen Egyptian soldiers open fire, but military spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said he was not aware of any Egyptian military involvement.
Israeli security forces tracked down some of the assailants and are engaged in an ongoing gunbattle with them, Mordechai said. The attackers fired mortars and an anti-tank missile, he said. The military spokesman's office said a roadside bomb was detonated when a military patrol arrived at the scene of the bus attack and drove over the device.
Mordechai said the nature of the attack indicated that it had been well planned.
The military said several assailants had been killed in the shootout with Israeli forces, but did not give a number.
Israel Radio says a second bus has been attacked in southern Israel, near the site of the first ambush and Israeli television has reported a gunbattle in the area, while the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that mortars were fired from the Egyptian side of the border.
Security sources in North Sinai say that the shots were fired from the Israeli side of the border. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that reports indicated that the shots were fired from a car that was following the bus on an Israeli road.
Egypt recently stepped up security in the Sinai desert, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, after several attacks on gas pipelines and reports of Al-Qaeda-linked groups there.
Egyptian security sources said on Tuesday that an army crackdown on armed groups in North Sinai had netted four Islamist militants as they prepared to blow up a gas pipeline.
Intelligence officials in Egypt said militant groups in Sinai were making use of a security vacuum left by the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.