Israel Hits Terror Tunnel Following Suicide Bombing

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel said it remains committed to the ceasefire with the Palestinians on Tuesday, even as the Air Force bombed a tunnel in the Gaza Strip that could have been used to carry out a terror attack against Israeli civilians.

The tunnel was located near the Karni goods crossing into the Gaza Strip.

Monday's deadly suicide attack in the southern city of Eilat has heightened fears here that more Palestinian terrorists could slip through the porous Israeli-Egyptian border. The border, about a hundred miles long, runs through the sparsely populated desert and is not fenced, although Israeli forces do patrol it.

The Palestinian who blew himself up in a bakery on Monday was from the Gaza Strip.

He killed three men, including the bakery's two owners and an employee who had just started working at the bakery.

Palestinian sources said the bomber had arrived in Eilat by way of Jordan but Israeli officials believe he was smuggled through a Gaza Strip tunnel into the Egyptian Sinai Desert and then made his way south.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel would increase its operations along the border and would act "decisively" against what he called "a very serious action."

Peretz was quoted as saying that Israel has "precise information" about how the suicide bomber arrived in Eilat and about those who assisted him. He also said Israel is contemplating how to deal with those who had planned the attack.

In the past, Israel has discussed the possibility of putting up a security fence along the border. But that would be costly.

Asked about a border fence, Peretz, who visited Eilat on Tuesday, said that such a project would cost "billions" of shekels (hundreds of millions of dollars). He said issue of Israel's southern border would be prioritized along with Israel's other security needs.

Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz said it's up to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptians to end the terrorism.

Abbas is being touted as a peace partner for Israel, Steinitz said in a radio interview. But he doesn't stop or prevent the terrorism or even speak against it in Arabic, he said.

Egypt also bears responsibility, Steinitz charged. The Egyptians transformed the border between the Sinai and Gaza into an open line for smuggling weapons, terrorists, and other foreigners into the center of Gaza, he said.

Israel needs to challenge Egypt, Steinitz said. If Jordan can prevent large-scale weapons and rocket smuggling and the infiltration of al Qaeda and Hizballah operatives through its territory into the West Bank, Egypt can do the same along the 9-mile border its shares with Gaza, he said.

Israeli Knesset Member Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet (secret service), said Israel needs to work with Egypt and also on its own to close the porous border.

Israel also needs to operate inside the Gaza Strip to assassinate everyone who is planning a terror attack, he said.

Tuesday's aerial attack on the tunnel in the Gaza Strip was the first since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire in November.

The Karni crossing is the lifeline of the Gaza Strip, through which most food, medicines and other imports and exports must pass. Nevertheless, it has been targeted previously by terrorists.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli officials said they are committed to the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire struck in the Gaza Strip in November, Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen said.

But Israel will "not be restrained forever" against terror attacks and rocket fire into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Eisen said by telephone.

Israel is constantly under threat of terror attacks, said Eisen, and is constantly trying to prevent them. (See related story)

An Islamic Jihad official, Ziyad Al- Nakhaleh, was quoted by the Palestinian Maan News Agency as saying that the Eilat attack was meant to drop "the flaming ball" into the Israeli court - to unite Palestinians, who are now fighting each other, against Israel.

About 34 Palestinians have been killed since last Thursday in renewed clashes in the Gaza Strip between Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and forces aligned with the Hamas-led government.

But overnight Hamas and Fatah declared a ceasefire -- a pause that may simply be used to prepare for the next round of fighting.

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