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Police hunt for gunman after deadly Tel Aviv pub attack

AFP , Saturday 2 Jan 2016
Israeli occupation forces
Members of the Israeli occupation security forces search the area following an attack by an unidentified gunman, who opened fire at a pub in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv killing two people and wounding at least seven others on January 1, 2016, police and medical officials said. (AFP PHOTO)
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Israeli security forces pressed Saturday a manhunt for the gunman who killed two people and wounded seven others at a Tel Aviv pub, as the motive for the attack remained unclear.

The New Year's Day shooting on busy Dizengoff Street came amid a wave of unrest in the occupied territories and days after the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) group threatened Israel with violence.

"Police are continuing to search for suspect who murdered two Israelis in central Tel Aviv," spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, adding that road blocks had been set up in different parts of the city.

After the attack, hundreds of police had been seen Friday scouring the area and entering buildings to search for suspects as police helicopters buzzed overhead.

Media reports identified the shooter as an Arab in his late 20s from northern Israel who had recently been jailed for attacking a soldier, but police refused to confirm this.

The local council of Arara condemned the shooting in a statement, saying the northern Arab Israeli town's residents "fiercely object any act of violence".

According to the council, "this is the act of one individual who does not represent any of the town's residents," stressing the attack was "foreign to our culture".

Rosenfeld said there was a "strong possibility that this was a terrorist attack but we haven't ruled out criminal motives". He did not elaborate.

Security camera footage from a nearby store showed a bespectacled young man with a backpack calmly pretending to shop before going to the exit, placing the backpack on a trolley, removing what looks like a submachine gun and opening fire in the street.

Medics said they took nine people to hospitals in Tel Aviv, with police saying two of them had died.

One of those killed was identified by his father as Alon Bakal, a law and business student who was a manager at Simta, the pub that was targeted, with police naming the second as Shimon Ruimi from southern Israel.

Police issued a gag order on the investigation as well as the one into the death of an Arab Israeli taxi driver found shot in north Tel Aviv a short while after the shooting rampage.

They have also refused to say whether the two attacks were linked.

In a recording released a week ago and attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the secretive leader of the ISIS militants group pledged to attack Israel.

Baghdadi said ISIS has "not forgotten Palestine for a single moment".

"And soon, soon with God's permission, you will hear the footsteps of the mujahedeen... We are getting closer to you day by day," he said.

Haim Pinto was closing his jewellery store near the pub when the shooting began.

"People started running in my direction, yelling 'terrorist, terrorist'. I saw the commotion and went right back into my store, another girl came in and we hid in the bathroom till the shooting ended," he told AFP.

Pinto said the pub had opened "just a few months ago".

Osnat David, who owns a hair salon near the pub, said she was outside smoking a cigarette just two minutes before the attack began.

"If I were there when it happened I would have been dead," she said, recounting how she hid in the storage room with a few customers, clutching a pair of scissors and waiting for the shooting to end.

French tourist Alexandre Lambez was at a cafe across the street from the pub.

"I heard gunshots and turned around; I saw people rushing to the back of the cafe. I heard screaming and saw a man shooting. He was brown haired, wearing a grey sweater and fled the scene," he told AFP.

"I immediately thought of the attacks in Paris," he said, referring to Islamist militant attacks in November that killed 130 people at bars, a concert hall and the Stade de France stadium.

Twenty Israelis, an American and an Eritrean have been killed in a wave of attacks since October 1 including stabbings, car-rammings and gunfire targeting security forces and civilians.

According to an AFP count, 138 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the start of the latest violence, most while carrying out attacks on Israelis.

The current wave of protests by Palestinians and repression by Israeli occupation forces started in late July when toddler Ali Dawabsha was burned to death and three other Palestinians were severely injured after their house in the occupied West Bank was set on fire by Israeli settlers.

Palestinian protests were also triggered by an increase in Jewish visitors to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinians fear that Israel is preparing to allow Jewish prayers in the mosque, which are not currently allowed.

Settlement-building, racial discrimination, confiscation of identity cards, long queues at checkpoints, as well as daily clashes and the desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque, have been Palestinians' daily routine.

The anger of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem has increased in the last three years after the Israeli authorities allowed increasing numbers of Jewish settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The surge in violence has been fuelled by Palestinians' frustration over Israel's 48-year occupation of land they seek for an independent state, and the expansion of settlements in those territories which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinian leaders say a younger generation sees no hope for the future living under Israeli security restrictions and with a stifled economy. The latest round of U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in April 2014.

Violence has also been triggered by Muslim anger over stepped-up Israeli visits to Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque complex. The site, Islam's holiest outside Saudi Arabia, is also revered by many Jews as a vestige of their biblical temples.

*The story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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