MIZPE RAMON, Israel - Agence France-Presse
An Israeli soldier detains an Arab-Israeli, as policemen watch on, after he tried to pass a road block made by the police in the Israeli Negev desert, south of Beer Sheva. AFP photo
Israel was hunting for up to four gunmen who infiltrated the Egyptian border and staged a deadly ambush today, killing one Israeli and sparking a firefight which left two militants dead.
The incident began around 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) when a group of up to six gunmen opened fire towards a convoy taking Israeli construction workers to a site where they are building part of the vast fence along the frontier, the army said.
"Fire was opened at Israeli workers during routine construction work on the security fence between Israel
and Egypt," an army spokeswoman said, indicating troops had returned fire killing two of the gunmen.
Another official confirmed an Israeli civilian construction worker was also killed in the ambush, which took place in an area called Nahal Lavan, several kilometres (miles) inside the Israel-Egyptian frontier.
The remaining three or four gunmen fled the scene, with troops sealing off the area and mounting a massive manhunt to find them, the army said.
"Three or maybe four terrorists are still inside Israeli territory and we are currently trying to find them," the spokeswoman said, indicating that the army had declared the area a closed military zone and sealed off routes 10 and 12.
The army also declared an alert in Kadesh Barnea, Nitzana and Be'er Milcha, three frontier villages which lie very close to where the attack took place.
Nahal Lavan, where the ambush took place, lies some 30 kilometers south of the Gaza Strip.
General Yoav Mordechai, the army's official spokesman, said a "group of terrorists" had infiltrated Israeli territory along the border and had ambushed the convoy.
"These terrorists opened fire and used explosive devices and also apparently used anti-tank missiles against vehicles which were transporting workers who were building the security fence along the border," he told Israel's army radio.
"Soldiers then arrived at the scene and opened fire." "The sector where the incident took place has been closed and we are carrying out searches to ensure there are no more terrorists in Israeli territory," he said.
The border incident came just 48 hours after two rockets were fired from Sinai into southern Israel, hitting close to the Negev desert town of Mitzpe Ramon and near Ovda, which lies some 40 kilometers north of Eilat.
Close to Ovda is a very small international airport which is used for civilian and military flights.
In early April, militants in Sinai fired a Grad rocket which exploded near Eilat without causing casualties, with another unexploded rocket later found in the same area.
And in Aug. 2011, a group of gunmen from the Sinai sneaked across the border and carried out a series of ambushes north of Eilat, killing eight Israelis.
In the ensuing manhunt, Israeli troops inadvertently shot dead five Egyptian policemen, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Cairo.
The attack spurred Israel
to double the pace of construction of its vast border fence, which is largely finished although it has yet to be completed in several areas in the northernmost and southernmost sectors of the frontier.
Since the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the Sinai has been swept by a wave of militant unrest and lawlessness, stoking deep fears in Israel
which shares a 240-kilometer border with the Egyptian peninsula.
In Aug. 2010, several rockets fired from the Sinai, apparently aimed at Eilat, slammed into the nearby Jordanian port of Aqaba, killing one person and wounding five others.