JERUSALEM — At least two people were killed and eight others injured in a shooting Thursday night outside a bar on a busy street in central Tel Aviv, the latest in the deadliest wave of terrorism in Israel since 2016.
Doctors said the shooting happened around 9 p.m. on the last evening of the Israeli work week, in front of a bar full of people enjoying the start of the weekend. Nearly three hours later, the police and military still had not located the shooter(s) and police ordered residents to stay home.
The shooter’s disappearance has sparked a surreal manhunt in the heart of Israel’s most cosmopolitan city. Soldiers in full combat gear scoured the city center in search of the shooter, many of whom were caught on live footage by reporters running alongside them.
The shooting was the fourth fatal attack in Israel in less than three weeks, and claimed the total death toll since March 22-13. The assault has heightened fears of an even more intense flare-up over the next 10 days, when the rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter are expected to further heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ten injured people were taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, two of whom later died and four of them were in critical condition, the hospital said.
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Another injured man said he did not initially realize he was injured. After hearing the gunshots outside the bar and seeing his window smash, the man, Mark Malfeyev, said he started running for safety. “I didn’t know I had an injury and I just started running,” Mr Malfeyev said in a video filmed from his hospital bed and broadcast by Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster. “Then I saw a lot of blood.”
Broadcasters showed video of the debris outside the bar, where emergency responders and police stood next to a pile of shattered glass. Civilians ran for shelter in nearby apartment buildings and elevators, some knocking on strangers’ doors to find shelter, doctors and residents said.
Yisrael Weingarten, a paramedic with Magen David Adom, an Israeli emergency medical group, treated some of the victims and said he witnessed “a great commotion at the scene, with dozens of people running through the streets,” and six “patients lying on the sidewalk.”
“We immediately began treatment, including bleeding control and bandaging,” Weingarten added in a statement released by MDA.
Thursday’s attack came 10 days after a gun attack in Bnei Brak, a town just east of Tel Aviv, in which a Palestinian attacker killed three Israelis and two Ukrainians.
The incident came just two days after a gun attack in which two Arab citizens of Israel, armed with heavy automatic weapons, shot and killed two policemen in Hadera, a coastal town in northern Israel.
The series of deadly attacks began on March 22, when an assailant stabbed three people and rammed another with his car in a town in southern Israel, killing all four. Prior to the March 22 assault, there had also been two other non-lethal stabbing attacks in the space of a week in Jerusalem.
Most of the attacks in recent years have been carried out with knives, so the increase in the use of firearms is of particular concern to security officials, as it involves an unusual level of foresight and resources. .
At the time of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was on his way to the Israeli army headquarters in a neighborhood near Tel Aviv, and was informed of the attack there.
The motivations of recent attackers have varied. Three of the attackers were Arab citizens of Israel suspected of supporting Islamic State, the extremist group that is not part of the Palestinian nationalist movement. The Bnei Brak shooter was a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who had previously served 30 months in an Israeli prison for conspiracy to commit manslaughter and throwing objects at vehicles.
No Palestinian militant group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but some groups said it was a natural response to the Israeli occupation. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and, together with Egypt, has maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007. While the Palestinian Authority controls around 40% of the West Bank, the Israeli military continues to carry out daily raids even in the areas ruled by and Israel operates a two-tier court system in the territory – one for Israeli settlers and one for Palestinians.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel.