TEL AVIV, Israel ( Associated Press) – A gunman opened fire in Tel Aviv’s busy business district on Thursday night, killing at least two people and injuring others before fleeing into a densely populated residential area.
Police said there were “signs” that it was a politically motivated attack, the fourth deadliest attack in Israel in less than three weeks and at a time of rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. The Hamas extremist group that rules the Gaza Strip welcomed the attack but did not claim responsibility.
Several hours after the shooting, the attacker was still absconding. Hundreds of Israeli police, canine units and elements of Army Special Forces were carrying out a massive search of the central Tel Aviv area, going door-to-door through residential areas.
Tel Aviv police commander Amichai Ashed said the attacker opened fire at a crowded bar around 9 p.m. and then fled the scene.
“We operate on the hypothesis that it is still in the vicinity,” he told reporters. “So far, there are indications that this is a terrorist attack, but I have to be very sensitive about that, and have to say that we review other clues as well.”
Israel’s Magan David Adom emergency service received reports of shootings in “multiple locations” around central Tel Aviv. He indicated that two men died in their 30s. He said seven other people were injured, of whom three are in critical condition.
At least one shot was fired on Dizengoff Avenue, a major street that has seen several attacks over the years. In one of the most recent, an Israeli Arab citizen shot dead two Israelis and injured several others in January 2016.
The popular nightlife area was packed on Thursday nights, the start of the Israeli weekend.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, meeting with top security officials on Thursday night, agreed to “continue the deployment of massive reinforcements to Tel Aviv”, his office said in a statement.
Tensions have risen after Palestinian attacks killed 11 people shortly before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, which began a week ago. Last year, protests and clashes in Jerusalem during Ramadan sparked an 11-day war in Gaza.
Cross reported from Jerusalem.
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report from Jerusalem.