Deadly gunfire in central Tel Aviv killed 2 as police say there is ‘evidence’ of terrorist attack
At least two people were killed and several wounded in a shooting in central Tel Aviv on Thursday night in an area crowded with several bars and restaurants, Israeli medics said.
The motive for the shooting wasn’t immediately clear, but it happened amid heightened tensions following a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians. Police said there was “evidence” of a terrorist attack. The militant Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the attack but took no responsibility.
Live footage from Israel’s Kan channel showed police flooding the area and pointing their guns at the top floor of a building. It also showed some kind of explosion. Police urged people to avoid the area.
At least one shooting took place on Dizengoff Street, a central thoroughfare. Dizengoff Street has been the site of several deadly attacks over the years. The popular nightlife district was packed on Thursday evening, the start of the Israeli weekend.
Television footage showed armed officers running down Dizengoff Street and side streets trying to track down the attacker, Reuters reported.
Police spokesman Eli Levy said a “terrorist opened fire at close range and then fled on foot,” according to Reuters. He urged residents of the surrounding areas not to leave their homes. “Don’t stick your heads out the window. Stay off your balconies,” Levy said on Channel 13.
Amichai Eshel, the Tel Aviv police commander, said the gunman opened fire at a crowded bar around 9 p.m. and then fled.
“Our working assumption is that he’s still around,” he told reporters. “At the moment there are indications that this is a terrorist attack, but I have to be very careful and say that we are also looking at other indications.”
Israel Emergency Service Magen David Adom said it had received reports of a shooting at “multiple locations” in downtown Tel Aviv. Two men in their 30s were said to have been killed. Another seven people were injured, three of them seriously, it said.
The nearby Ichilov Hospital said two people had died and eight other wounded were being treated.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is monitoring the situation from Israel’s military headquarters, also located in downtown Tel Aviv, his office said.
“It’s an atmosphere of war. Soldiers and police are everywhere… They searched the restaurant,” and people are crying, restaurant worker Binyamin Blum told AFP.
Tensions ran high after a series of attacks by Palestinian attackers killed 11 people just before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began almost a week ago.
Last month, a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire in a city in central Israel.. Days earlier, two gunmen killed two young police officers during a rampage in downtown Hadera, and a week earlier, a lone gunman killed four people in a car ram and knife attack in the southern city of Beersheba.
Last year, protests and clashes during Ramadan sparked an 11-day Gaza war.
Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders have held a series of meetings in recent weeks, and Israel has taken a number of steps to calm tensions, including issuing thousands of additional work permits to Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
Before the attack, Israel said it would allow women, children and men over 40 from the occupied West Bank to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem on Friday, the first weekly prayers of Ramadan. Tens of thousands were expected.
The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and sits atop a hill that is the holiest site for Jews, which they refer to as the Temple Mount. The holy site has long been a focus of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians want all three areas to form their future state. The last serious and substantive peace talks collapsed more than a decade ago, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood.
Israel has not internationally recognized East Jerusalem and considers the entire city its capital.
It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but together with neighboring Egypt it imposed a crippling blockade on the area after the militant Hamas group seized power from rival Palestinian forces two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since then.
The recent attacks appear to have been carried out by lone fighters, possibly with the help of accomplices. No Palestinian militant group has claimed them, although Hamas has welcomed the attacks.
Hamas spokesman Abdelatif Al-Qanou said late Thursday that “the heroic attack at the heart of the (Israeli) entity has struck the Zionist security system and demonstrated our people’s ability to harm the occupation.”
Israel says the conflict stems from the Palestinians’ refusal to accept its existence as a Jewish state, blaming the attacks in part on incitement on social media. Palestinians say such attacks are the inevitable result of a nearly 55-year military occupation that shows no sign of ending.