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Israeli troops on Gaza border

JERUSALEM – An al-Qaida front group headquartered in the Gaza Strip was behind a series of coordinated attacks today targeting Israelis near the southern border resort town of Eilat, according to Egyptian security officials speaking to WND.

The Egyptian officials are coordinating a joint response to the attacks with Israel. The attacks took place near the vast Israel-Egypt border.

At least seven people reportedly were killed and dozens were wounded in the attacks on Israeli targets.

The first attack was a drive-by shooting targeting an Israeli public bus traveling from Be’er Sheva to Eilat. The shooting was near the community of Netafim. The bus reportedly carried a large number of off-duty Israeli soldiers.

When police and Israel Defense Forces responded to the scene, they were met with several explosive devices that were detonated alongside an IDF vehicle. The devices appear to have been planted.

Simultaneously, an anti-tank missile was fired from Egypt, hitting a private vehicle, and several mortar shells were also fired into Israel, reportedly targeting troops patrolling the Israel-Egypt border.

Israeli forces launched a search for the vehicle that was believed to have transported the gunmen to the bus attack.

There are reports of a possible second drive-by-shooting targeting another Israeli bus.

Local reports say the vehicle used in the first bus shooting was tracked down and that a firefight ensued.

The IDF spokesman reported that two to four terrorists were killed in the clashes.

An Egyptian security official denied Egypt was involved in the attacks.

The official told an Egyptian state-run media that the armed terrorists operated from within Israel’s borders.

Egyptian security officials, meanwhile, told WND there is immediate indication that the attack was carried out by members of Jihadiya Salafiya, an al-Qaida-allied group in Gaza.

The Egyptian officials said the attackers originated in Gaza, crossed into the neighboring Egyptian Sinai peninsula and then penetrated Israel along the Jewish state’s border with Egypt.

Egyptian military units the past few days have been carried out large scale military efforts in the Sinai aimed at minimizing the presence of Jihadiya Salafiya and other al-Qaida-affiliated groups.

Last week, WND reported that Israel stopped what would have been a spectacular border terrorist attack planned from inside the Gaza Strip, according to the same Egyptian security officials.

The Egyptian officials said there is information the attack, slated for Tuesday, was aimed at the sole pipeline that supplies Gaza with gas. The pipeline, located at the Israeli town of Nahal Oz, is manned and provided by Israel.

An attack on Gaza’s fuel pipelines could have negative implications for Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

While both Hamas and al-Qaida are offshoots of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the groups often clash over a difference in tactics.

In August 2008, Jihadiya Salafiya announced it established an armed wing, which it called the Damascus Soldiers, brandishing weapons in a public display in Gaza while openly identifying with al-Qaida ideologically.

Unlike other radical Islamic organizations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which have demonstrated some pragmatism in aspects of political life while still holding an Islamist worldview, the new al-Qaida organization believes in a strict interpretation of the Quran and that only the Quran can dictate how to act.

The Islamist group believes violent jihad is the primary way to spread Islam around the world, including jihad against secular Muslim states.

Hamas has worked with the al-Qaida-allied groups in Gaza. It took credit along with Jaish al-Islam for the kidnapping in June 2006 of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

But Jihadiya Salifiya has been regularly publishing pamphlets labeling Hamas as “non-Muslim” since the terror group ran in 2006 democratic elections, which the Islamist organizations see as an expression of Western values.

Also, for the past two years, al-Qaida leaders themselves have released audio tapes blasting Hamas for participating in elections and in the democratic process.

Hamas several times has engaged in heavy fire clashes with the Islamist organizations in Gaza, including Jihadiya Salafiya.

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