JERUSALEM, FEB. 8 -- Three Arab guerrillas infiltrated Israel from Jordan today and attacked a bus of soldiers before being killed by an Israeli army patrol in the latest assault along the country's borders, authorities said. Four Israeli soldiers were reported injured in the incident.
The shootout was the third and most serious incident along Israel's border with Jordan since the beginning of the Persian Gulf War on Jan. 17. It followed a steady escalation of belligerence between Israel and Palestinian militants in southern Lebanon. Israel maintains the border troubles are an attempt by Iraq's allies to open a "second front" in the war.
Army Chief of Staff Dan Shomron said the latest infiltration, which occurred in Israel's southern desert about 90 miles south of Jerusalem, appeared to have been carried out by Muslim militants. Israel radio said the guerrillas were 18 to 28 years old, wore civilian clothes and carried prayer books as well as Kalashnikov rifles.
The three attacked a bus of soldiers traveling along the highway running south from Jerusalem to the Red Sea at about 7 a.m., military officials said. The Arabs reportedly opened fire with their rifles and threw a grenade. An army patrol soon arrived on the scene and exchanged fire with the infiltrators, killing all of them, officials said.
One of the wounded soldiers was a woman, Israel radio said. None was reported to be seriously injured.
The incident came at the end of a week in which the Israeli army and air force have pounded Palestinian positions in southern Lebanon in retaliation for a series of rocket attacks on the Israeli-held "security zone" that borders northern Israel. Israeli officials have charged that the rocket barrages were ordered by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, who has been an ally of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Jordan's King Hussein also appeared to align himself with Iraq in a strong speech delivered Wednesday. Senior Israeli leaders have deplored the king's statement, but indicated today that they do not intend to take action against Jordan because of today's incident.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens said Israel holds Jordan responsible for preventing such cross-border attacks. But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir struck a more conciliatory note in a statement to Israel radio, saying "this isn't the first incident of its kind on the Jordanian border."
"I wouldn't say this points to the future that will come after the war," Shamir said. "I could imagine that after the war, our borders will be completely quiet." Thursday, Shamir said he was "very anxious," not just about the king's speech but also about the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Jordan. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a tough statement that Israel "is distressed at the continuing Jordanian support for Iraq."