TEL AVIV — A Palestinian gunman was killed by Israeli police after fatally shooting three Israelis and injuring at least 15 others at a popular pub in central Tel Aviv Thursday night, Israeli authorities said.
Israeli police said that the shooter, a man from the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, fired into the Ilka pub on Dizengoff Street, one of Tel Aviv’s busiest shopping and nightlife centers, just before 9 p.m. on Thursday, the start of the weekend in Israel. He then fled the scene.
Police ordered residents to go inside, lock their doors and stay away from their windows as hundreds of officers swept the city, searching in courtyards and construction sites in pursuit of the assailant. Videos posted on social media showed emergency workers loading victims onto stretchers and working to clear debris as helicopters shone a spotlight from above.
The gunman was found and killed in a shootout with Israeli police at around 6 a.m. Friday morning near a mosque in central Jaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood south of Tel Aviv. He was identified as Raed Hazem, 29. Hazem was not known to have any political affiliation and he did not have a permit to stay in Israel, Israeli authorities said. He was from the Jenin refugee camp, one of the West Bank’s most impoverished camps and a hotbed of political and militant activity.
The three Israelis killed by the gunman included childhood friends Eytam Megini and Tomer Morad, both 27, from the central Israeli town of Kfar Saba, and Barak Lufen, a 35-year-old coach on Israel’s national kayak team, from the central Israeli town of Givat Shmuel, according to Israel’s emergency services. More than a dozen others, who were also in their 20s and 30s, suffered severe gunshot wounds to their chests and stomachs, medics said. Lufen, who was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, died Friday evening of wounds he sustained in the attack, according to Israeli health officials.
“This is a difficult day,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday, in a televised appearance with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev from the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, several blocks from where the attacks occurred.
“We are giving full freedom of action to all Israeli security forces needed to eradicate this terrorism. There will be no limits to this war,” Bennett said.
Gantz urged Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had condemned Thursday’s attack to proactively quash terror cells, saying that Israeli forces will “not wait” to do the same. He added that Israeli security forces have already arrested 200 people.
American ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in a tweet that he was “horrified to see another cowardly terror attack on innocent civilians, this time in Tel Aviv.”
“This has to stop!” he wrote.
Bennett announced late Thursday his government would scale up security forces in Tel Aviv, in addition to the already increased numbers of forces recently deployed throughout Israel and the West Bank. Last week, Bennett called on licensed Israelis to carry arms after a Palestinian man embarked on a shooting rampage in a suburb of Tel Aviv, killing five people.
The string of attacks are the deadliest since the so-called “knife intifada” of 2015-2016, when mostly young, politically-unaffiliated Palestinian men used knives, scissors, cars and other unconventional weapons to lethally attack Israeli civilians and soldiers. In many cases, the assailants were active in social media groups circulating false rumors claiming that Israel was planning to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on a Jerusalem holy site contested by Jews and Muslims.
Israeli security forces have been on high alert ahead of Friday, the first of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in preparation for potential clashes near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have warned of a steep escalation in violence especially over the next few weeks, when in a rare instance Ramadan will coincide with Passover and Easter.
In May, also during Ramadan, clashes between Palestinians and Israelis near Damascus Gate helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls Gaza.
In a statement on its website Thursday, Hamas praised the attack in Tel Aviv, calling it a “heroic operation” that “led to the killing of a number of occupying soldiers and Zionist settlers.”
Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.