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Gaza's PRC militants deny involvement in Eilat attacks

Aug. 19, 2011 2:39 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 21, 2011 12:21 P.M.)
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AFP) -- Gaza militants blamed for shooting attacks near the Egyptian border that killed eight Israelis, denied Friday that they were involved, as the hunt for the killers moved to Egypt.

"We salute [the operation] and we are proud of it, but we do not claim it," Popular Resistance Committees Abu Mujahid spokesman told AFP in the Gaza city of Rafah as the faction buried five members killed in a retaliatory Israeli air strike a day earlier.

"The occupation wants to pin this operation on us in order to escape its own internal problems," he said.

Thursday's attack saw at least seven gunmen armed with explosives, grenades and other weaponry, sneak into southern Israel and open fire indiscriminately on cars and buses, killing six Israeli civilians, a soldier and a policeman.

Several hours later, the air force bombed targets in Rafah, killing the PRC leader and several more of the faction's top cadres, as well as a toddler.

Israel said six of the gunmen were shot dead on Thursday, while a seventh blew himself up.

But it was widely reported that between 15 and 20 militants had been involved in the attack, and Israeli and Egyptian forces were sweeping the border area on Friday to find any who may have escaped.

Egypt's military chief of staff, Sami Enan, headed to the Sinai on Friday to probe the deaths of five policemen killed the previous day, a military source said.

There have been conflicting reports from the military and police about how the Egyptian policemen died.

A military official told the official MENA news agency on Thursday night they were accidentally killed by Israeli helicopter fire aimed at fleeing militants.

But on Friday, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a military official as saying the policemen were killed by gunmen trying to slip in from Israel.

Enan's visit was announced shortly after another policemen was declared dead after a border gunfight on Friday, which left one of his comrades gravely wounded with a bullet in the head.

Earlier, Israeli security sources told AFP they had information that a man had blown himself up on the Egyptian side of the border, saying they believed he was one of the men on the run.

And state television said that on Thursday, two "unidentified Egyptians" had been killed by Israeli gunfire in an area near the site of the attacks.

Overnight, the Israeli air force attacked seven targets in Gaza, killing one person and injuring 17. Another three strikes on Friday morning caused little damage and lightly injured one man.

As the air force pounded targets across Gaza, militants there lobbed 12 rockets at south Israel early on Friday. Three people were wounded -- one seriously and one moderately -- in the city of Ashdod, police said.

In the aftermath of Thursday's attack, Israel was quick to point the finger at Gaza, naming the PRC as the group behind the attacks, although the military said it held Hamas as ultimately responsible for violence coming from the territory it controls.

"If Hamas wants an escalation, it will pay a high price," Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told public radio on Friday, saying some form of ground operation in Gaza was not out of the question.

"All options are open, including a pin-point [ground] operation," he said.

Hamas has denied any connection to the attacks.

As police went on high alert across Israel, the country's main newspapers painted a much clearer picture of how events unfolded on Thursday involving an estimated 15 to 20 gunmen, some wearing Egyptian army fatigues.

According to these reports, the first attack saw three gunmen open fire on a packed bus heading to Eilat, injuring seven people. Shortly afterwards, they opened fire on a civilian car in the same area, killing four people.

Then one of the militants detonated an explosives-packed belt he was wearing as an empty bus drove past, blowing himself up and killing the driver. Further gunfire was directed at another car, killing one man.

The soldier and the police officer were killed in two separate gun battles with the attackers which lasted into the evening, the papers said.

Six of the attackers were killed by Israeli troops and special police forces, while the seventh blew himself up; others are believed to have fled across the Egyptian border.
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