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Militants’ incursion into Israel from Egypt launches more bloodshed

JERUSALEM - Militants crossed from Egypt’s turbulent Sinai desert into southern Israel Monday and opened fire, killing an Israeli worker, defense officials said. Two assailants were shot dead in a gun battle with Israeli troops responding to the ambush.

The Israeli was in a crew building a fence along the porous desert border.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which underscored the growing lawlessness in the Sinai desert since Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year.

A military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, said the assailants have not been identified but defense officials suspect Palestinian militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip might have been involved. Southern Gaza borders Sinai, and infiltrators can exit Gaza through tunnels under the border.

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Several hours after the attack, an Israeli airstrike killed two men on a motorcycle in the northern Gaza Strip near the Israeli border. The Islamic Jihad said the men were members on a reconnaissance mission and vowed revenge.

Hours later, another airstrike killed two more. The Israeli military said the target was a squad of Palestinian rocket launchers.

Israeli military officials said those attacks were not connected to the infiltration from Egypt.

The mountainous Sinai desert harbors an array of militant groups, including Palestinian extremists and Al Qaeda-inspired jihadists, Egyptian and Israeli security officials say. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that there has been “a worrisome deterioration of Egyptian control’’ over the Sinai.