5 killed in mass shootings in central Israel
A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire late Tuesday in a crowded city in central Israel, methodically firing at victims as he killed at least five people in the second mass shooting this week. The shooter was killed by police.
Israeli media reported that the suspected gunman was a 27-year-old Palestinian from the northern West Bank city of Yabad. The police initially gave no information about the suspect. Two previous attacks carried out by Arab citizens of Israel, inspired by the Islamic State extremist group, have raised concerns of further violence.
Israel “is facing a wave of murderous Arab terrorism,” declared Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He promised to act against it “with perseverance, tenacity and an iron fist”. He held an emergency meeting of senior security officials and scheduled a meeting of his security cabinet for Wednesday.
Israeli authorities have not yet determined whether the series of attacks was organized or whether the attackers acted individually. The Israeli military said it would send additional troops to the West Bank and the police chief raised the national preparedness level to its highest level.
Amateur video footage aired on Israeli television apparently showed the gunman in a black shirt, armed with an assault rifle, stopping a moving vehicle and firing at the driver. Another showed him chasing a cyclist, with the gun appearing to jam as he tried to shoot.
Tuesday’s shootings occurred in two locations in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town east of Tel Aviv. Police said a preliminary investigation found the gunman was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on bystanders before being shot dead by officers at the scene.
Magen David Adom emergency services confirmed five people were killed. Police said one of the victims was a police officer who arrived at the scene and engaged the shooter.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that the security forces “will work by all means to restore security to Israeli streets and a sense of security among civilians.”
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying killing Israeli or Palestinian civilians “will only lead to further worsening of the situation and instability that we all aspire to, especially as we approach the holy month of Ramadan and Christian and… Jewish holidays.”
He said the violence “confirms that a lasting, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest path to achieving security and stability for the Palestinian and Israeli people.”
No Palestinian group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The militant Islamist Hamas praised the “heroic operation” but does not admit responsibility. Mosques in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip blared “God is great” in celebration of the attack.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to calm tensions and avoid a repeat of last year, when clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
But the new wave of violence is making those efforts much more difficult.
On Sunday, two gunmen killed two young police officers in a rampage in downtown Hadera, and last week a lone gunman killed four people in a car ram and knife attack in the southern city of Beersheba.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli security services searched the homes of at least 12 Arab citizens and arrested two suspected of links to the Islamic State group in a crackdown sparked by the recent deadly attacks.
Hours before the raid, Bennett said the recent attacks in Israel were a “new situation” that required heightened security measures.
Police officials said 31 homes and locations were raided overnight in northern Israel, an area where the gunmen who carried out the Hadera attack lived.
The terrorist militia Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks.
All of the attacks came just before Ramadan, which begins later this week, and as Israel hosted a high-level meeting between the foreign ministers of four Arab nations and the United States this week.
All four Arab nations – Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – as well as the United States condemned the killings.
Ramadan is expected to start on Saturday.
Deadly ISIS attacks inside Israel and attacks by Arab citizens of Israel are rare.
The group operates mainly in Iraq and Syria, where it has recently increased its attacks on security forces. It no longer controls territory but operates through sleeper cells. ISIS has alleged attacks against Israeli forces in the past and has branches in Afghanistan and other countries.