JERUSALEM (AP) — A gunman remained at large early Friday after killing at least two people and wounding 13 others in an attack Thursday night outside a bar on a busy street in central Tel Aviv. the latest in the deadliest wave of terrorism in Israel since 2016.
Doctors and police said the shooting happened around 9:00 pm on the last night of the Israeli work week, outside a bar packed with people enjoying the start of the weekend. Nearly three hours later, the police and military still had not located the shooter or shooters, and police ordered residents to stay home, effectively shutting down downtown Tel Aviv.
The disappearance of the shooter set off a surreal manhunt in the heart of Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, after the army sent special forces to help in the search. Soldiers in full combat gear ran through the city center in search of the shooter, many of them filmed live by journalists jogging alongside him.
The shooting was the fourth deadly attack in Israel in less than three weeks and raised the total death toll from March 22 to 13. The attack raised fears of an even more intense wave of violence in the next 10 days, when the rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Passover is expected to further heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ten injured people were taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, two of whom later died and four of whom were in critical condition, the hospital said. Five other injured people were treated elsewhere, police said.
An injured man said he had not initially realized he was injured. After hearing gunshots outside the bar and seeing the window shatter, the man, Mark Malfeyev, said he started running to safety. “I didn’t know I had an injury and I started running,” 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.
Announcers then showed video footage of soldiers going from apartment to apartment in central Tel Aviv, knocking on doors as they searched for the shooter.
Doctors at the scene said it evoked memories of past attacks on Israel, including a wave of violence between 2000 and 2005, known as the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, that killed at least 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.
“There are a lot of people who are still hiding and who are very stressed,” said Shragi Kirschenbaum, a doctor with United Hatzalah, an emergency medical service that treated victims at the scene. “It has been like this since I was born. I’m 37 years old, I don’t think a year has gone by without a war or some kind of terrorist attack.”
Yisrael Weingarten, a paramedic with Magen David Adom, another emergency medical group, treated some of the victims, saying he witnessed “a huge commotion at the scene, with dozens of people running through the streets” and saw six people “lying down on the sidewalk.”
Thursday’s attack came 10 days after a gun attack in Bnei Brak, a city east of Tel Aviv, in which a Palestinian attacker 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 policemen in Hadera, a coastal city in northern Israel.
The recent increase in terrorist attacks in Israel
An eruption of violence. The recent wave of terrorism in Israel has become one of the deadliest periods in the country in several 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 assailant stabbed three people and rammed another with his car in a southern Israeli city, killing all four. Prior to the March 22 assault, there were also two other non-lethal stab attacks in the space of a week in Jerusalem.
Most attacks in recent years have been carried out with knives, so the increased use of firearms has been of particular concern to security officials, as it involves an unusual level of forethought and resources.
At the time of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was visiting the Israeli army headquarters in a nearby district of Tel Aviv, and was told about the attack there.
The motivations of recent attackers have varied. Three of the attackers were Arab citizens of Israel who were believed to support the Islamic State, the extremist group that is not part of the Palestinian nationalist movement. The shooter in Bnei Brak was a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who had previously spent 30 months in an Israeli jail for conspiracy to commit manslaughter and throwing objects at vehicles.
No Palestinian militant group has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but some groups, including Hamas, the Islamist militant group based in the Gaza Strip, have praised them, saying they were a natural response to the Israeli occupation. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and, with Egypt, has maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007.
While the Palestinian Authority administers some 40 percent of the West Bank, the Israeli military still conducts daily raids even in areas administered by the authority, and Israel operates a two-tier justice system in the territory: one for Israeli settlers and one for for the Palestinians.
Mr. Kirschenbaum, the doctor, said he was heartened by the presence of Arab and Jewish first responders at the scene. “We are all working together against terrorism, to save lives,” he said.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel.