According to reports the United Nations decided Thursday to evacuate its foreign personnel from Gaza following the deadly string of terror attacks that rocked Israel's south.
The three successive attacks on buses in Israel's south left at least six dead and 33 wounded – including two women and two small children – prompting international speculation a muscular Israeli response is in the works.
Israeli security forces were already gearing up for a potential explosion of violence in connection to the Palestinian Authority bid for statehood at the UN in September leading many to question whether a large scale preemptive Israeli operation in Gaza – which some security officials have already called for – will be launched before the world body convenes.
"The attacks demonstrate the weakening of Egypt's control over the Sinai Peninsula and the expansion of terrorist activity there," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, adding "These attacks originate in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and resolve."
Barak's focus on Gaza – and the Hamas terror organization that rules it – comes as Egyptian officials say Thursday's attacks were unlikely have come from Sinai, where Egypt is currently conducting counter-terror operations to root out terror groups.
Security patrols on the Egyptian-Israeli border – only 10% of which is fenced – had not picked up on "suspicious movements" on the Egyptian side, a source said, adding security had been heightened on the border after news of the attack.
But on Wednesday it was reported Hamas was harboring Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who had conducted terror attacks in Sinai in Gaza and had repeatedly refused Egyptian requests they be handed over. It was unclear if Ramzi Mahmoud Al Mowafi, slain arch-terrorist Osama Bin Laden's personal physician and bomb maker – reported seen in Sinai this week – was among them.
IDF general Tzvika Fogel (Ret.) told reporters Israel must "seize control of the Philadelphi Corridor" in southern Gaza, thereby stopping the flow of terrorists and munitions in and out of the region. He also said Israel must punish Hamas politically while simultaneously targeting its leadership, especially the military commanders. He added the attack was likely intended to kidnap Israelis.
There are suspicions the same Gaza-based clan that masterminded the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit – masterminded the attack.
The comments by Israel and Egyptian officials came after a three-stage terrorist attack along Israel’s border with Egypt took place late Thursday morning, when terrorists opened fire at an Egged bus traveling on Road 12 near Eilat.
Several minutes later, a number of bombs went off next to an IDF patrol traveling along the border with Egypt. There were also reports of mortar fire from Egypt into Israel. The terrorists apparently then moved on to another spot and fired an anti-tank missile at another vehicle, injuring a number of passengers.