Israel pounds Gaza after deadly attacks

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World: a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. Today, Israel suffered its deadliest attack in three years. Gunmen in the southern part of the country staged several coordinated attacks on Israeli vehicles, including a bus. At least seven people were killed. The Israelis responded quickly -- in words and deed. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attacks as an assault on Israeli sovereignty. Israel launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip, where the Israelis say the gunmen were based. At least six Palestinians were killed. The World's Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem. These things usually lead to retaliation, and more retaliation, Matthew, as you well know. What are the two sides saying now?

Matthew Bell: Well, this thing started -- news started to break to break about noon-time today, and the initial reports were that there was a shooting just north of Eilat, the Israeli town that's down on the Red Sea in the very southern corner of the country. On a highway close to the Egyptian border there were gunmen, evidently, that were armed with suicide vests. They had grenades and machine guns. They attacked a bus; there were several people wounded there. And then over the next couple of hours, there was sort of a succession of more attacks. There were anti-tank missiles -- at least one -- fired at a civilian car. There were IEDs (improvised explosive devices) used, and then several hours later even during a news conference when Israel's defense minister and the head of the Israel defense forces were talking to reporters in that area, there was even more shooting going on. So, it was really a coordinated attack, and a lot going on. And as you mentioned, the back and forth, the retaliation, that's certainly not over yet.

Lisa Mullins: Israel says that the gunmen came from Gaza, but that they entered Israel through the Sinai peninsula -- which is part of Egypt. What is the significance of the way these gunmen might have entered?

Michael Bell: It's significant because not only does this represent an escalation between Israel and, possibly, Palestinian militants from Gaza, but it also presents a problem for the very complicated Israel-Egypt relationship right now. The defense minister from Israel, Ehud Barack, criticized the Egyptians and said that they had let the situation deteriorate in the Sinai to the point where militants were allowed to slip through.

Lisa Mullins: And Matthew, back in Israel there have been protests, we have been reporting on them, protests against the Israeli government. Apparently those staging the protests have halted them, at least for now. So I wonder what has happened in this attack -- has it had any impact on Netinyahu's strength or ability to react to these attacks?

Michael Bell: This is a big deal here in Israel. This kind of attack, I think, is going to remind Israelis of the times back in the 70's when militants were sneaking into Israel on more of a regular basis. This kind of thing hasn't happened down in that part of the country in a long time. So it's a big deal. I think prime minister Netanyahu is pretty clear in being very very forceful in talking about the way he's going to deal with this.

Lisa Mullins: Alright. Thank you. The World's Michael Bell in Jerusalem. Thanks.

Michael Bell: You're welcome, Lisa.