JERUSALEM – A gunman was released early Friday after killing at least two people and wounding 13 others on Thursday night in an attack outside a bar on a busy street in central Tel Aviv, the latest in Israel’s deadliest wave of terrorism since 2016.
Doctors and police said the shooting happened around 9 p.m. on the last night of the Israeli working week, outside a bar packed with people enjoying the start of the weekend. Nearly three hours later, police and military had still not found the gunman or gunmen and police instructed residents to stay at home, effectively shutting down central Tel Aviv.
The gunman’s disappearance sparked a surreal manhunt in the heart of Israel’s most cosmopolitan city after the military sent special forces to assist in the search. Soldiers in full combat gear ran through the city center in search of the gunman, many of them filmed live by journalists jogging next to them.
The shooting was the fourth deadly attack in Israel in less than three weeks and brought the total death toll since March 22 to March 13. The attack heightened fears of an even more intense wave of violence over the next 10 days, as the rare gathering of Ramadan, Passover and Easter is expected to further heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ten victims were taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, two of whom died later and four of them were in critical condition, the hospital said. Another five injured were treated elsewhere, police said.
One injured man said he hadn’t realized he was injured at first. After hearing the shots outside the bar and seeing the window smash, the man, Mark Malfeyev, said he started sprinting to 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, the Israeli public broadcaster. “Then I saw a lot of blood.”
Witnesses described scenes of panic in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as survivors ran for shelter in nearby apartment buildings, bar basements and elevators, some of them knocking on strangers’ doors to find shelter.
Broadcasters later showed video footage of soldiers going from apartment to apartment in central Tel Aviv knocking on doors as they searched for the gunman.
Doctors at the scene said it recalled past attacks in Israel, including a wave of violence between 2000 and 2005, known as the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that killed at least 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.
“There are a lot of people who are still hiding and very stressed,” said Sragi Kirschenbaum, a medic for United Hatzalah, an emergency medical service that treated victims on the spot. “It’s been like that since I was born. I’m 37 years old – I don’t think I’ve had a year without war or some kind of terror attack.”
Yisrael Weingarten, a paramedic with Magen David Adom, another emergency medical group, treated some of the victims and said he witnessed “a major commotion at the scene, with dozens of people running in the street,” and six people “on the ground.” saw lying”. the pavement.”
Thursday’s attack came 10 days after a firearms attack in Bnei Brak, a town just east of Tel Aviv, in which a Palestinian assailant killed three Israelis and two Ukrainians.
That episode came just two days after a gun attack in which two Arab citizens of Israel armed with heavy automatic weapons shot and killed two police officers in Hadera, a coastal town in northern Israel.
The Recent Increase in Terrorist Attacks in Israel
A wave of violence. The recent wave of terrorism by Israel has become one of the deadliest periods in the country in years. A shooting on April 7 was the fourth deadly attack since March 22 and brought the total death toll in recent weeks to at least 13 people.
The series of deadly attacks began on March 22, when an attacker stabbed three people and rammed into another with his car in a city in southern Israel, killing all four. Before the March 22 attack, there had also been two other non-lethal stabbing attacks in Jerusalem in a week.
Most 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 implies an unusual level of foresight and resources.
At the time of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was visiting the Israeli army headquarters in a nearby Tel Aviv district and was briefed about the attack.
The motivations of the recent attackers have varied. Three of the attackers were Arab citizens of Israel believed to support the Islamic State, the extremist group not part of the Palestinian nationalist movement. The gunman in Bnei Brak was a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who had previously spent 30 months in an Israeli prison for conspiracy to commit murder and throwing objects at vehicles.
No Palestinian militant group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but some groups, including Hamas, the Islamist militant group in the Gaza Strip, praised them, saying they were a natural response to the Israeli occupation. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and has maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip with Egypt since 2007.
While the Palestinian Authority controls about 40 percent of the West Bank, the Israeli military still conducts daily raids even in areas controlled by the authority, and Israel has a dual legal system in the area: one for Israeli settlers and one for Palestinians.
mr. Kirschenbaum, the medic, said he gave courage to the presence of both Arab and Jewish aid workers on the scene. “We are all working together against terror, to save lives,” he said.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel.