An woman holds her dog next to a bus station shattered by bullets at the scene of a deadly shooting attack, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Police in Israel on Saturday were hunting for an Israeli Arab identified as the suspect in Friday’s deadly shooting attack on a Tel Aviv bar, a case they described as “complex and unique.”

Nashat Melhem, 29, from the village of Arara in northern Israel, was still at large. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the scene of the attack in which two people were killed, said security forces were searching for “a needle in a haystack.”

Netanyahu said the city center shooting was a “despicable crime of unfathomable cruelty” and called for maximum vigilance from the public. He said security agencies had bolstered forces in “relevant areas” but gave no further details.

The manhunt began in the Tel Aviv area, but details of the investigation were under a court gag order. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said roadblocks had been set up further afield to prevent the suspect from escaping to the West Bank.

Security camera footage released moments after the attack showed the assailant browsing dried fruit at a health food store next door to the bar. He then pulled a machine pistol from his backpack and stepped onto the pavement, shooting wildly.

Israelis attend a candle vigil at the site of a shooting at a pub the previous day in Tel Aviv killing two people and injuring seven others. (Daniel Bar-On/AFP/Getty Images)

Israelis Alon Bakal, 26, and Shimon Ruimi, 29, were killed at the Simta Bar on Dizengoff Street, a main Tel Aviv thoroughfare, and several others were wounded, two seriously, in the early afternoon attack.

Relatives of the suspected shooter said he was a troubled man who was “traumatized” after a cousin was killed by police in 2006, and who had served time in an Israeli prison after allegedly grabbing an officer’s gun. The Associated Press reported that the relatives said he acted on his own and called on the man to turn himself in. Melhem’s father, Mohammed, said he was deeply sorry for what happened and wished the victims a speedy recovery. “I did not educate him this way,” he said.

Sami Melhem, a relative of the suspect and a lawyer, told Israeli Channel 2 that Melhem, whom he had represented in a case in which he was jailed for assaulting an Israeli soldier, was mentally unstable.

Arabs, the majority of them Muslim, make up 20 percent of Israel’s population of 8.4 million. While they broadly sympathize with the Palestinians, they rarely take up arms against the country or its Jewish majority.

“This is an extreme, complex and unique event in which an armed individual embarked on an indiscriminate killing spree in the heart of a busy street,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement, alluding to the fact that the case may differ from recent attacks by Palestinian militants against Israelis.

Israel has seen a wave of Palestinian street attacks since October, fueled in part by Muslim anger over stepped-up Jewish visits to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque complex, also sacred to Jews, as well as the lack of progress in peace talks.

The violence has been encouraged by Islamist groups that preach Israel’s destruction.

Israeli police at the scene of a shooting attack in a bar in central Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday. (Daniel Ber On/EPA)

Israel has also been bracing for a possible attack by the Islamic State group, which has a small but growing following among Israeli Arabs. An Islamic State audio message circulated on social media last week threatened to strike at Israel “soon.”

— Reuters