Gunman kills 5 in mass shooting spree in central Israel
JERUSALEM - A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire in a crowded city in central Israel late Tuesday, methodically gunning down victims as he killed at least five people in the second mass shooting rampage this week. The shooter was killed by police.
The shooting appeared to be the latest in a string of attacks by Arab assailants ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the anniversary of last year's Gaza war. Israeli media said the attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. The previous two attacks, carried out by Arab citizens of Israel inspired by the Islamic State extremist group, have raised concerns of further violence.
Israel "stands before a wave of murderous Arab terrorism," declared Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He pledged to combat it "with perseverance, stubbornness and an iron fist." He held an emergency meeting of top security officials and planned a meeting of his Security Cabinet on Wednesday.
Israeli authorities have not yet determined whether the string of attacks were organized or whether the attackers acted individually. The Israeli military announced it would be deploying additional troops to the West Bank, and the police chief raised the national readiness level to its highest.
Amateur video footage aired on Israeli television appeared to show the gunman in a black shirt armed with an assault rifle stopping a moving vehicle and shooting the driver. Another showed him chasing a cyclist, with the gun appearing to jam as he tried to fire.
Tuesday's shootings occurred at two locations in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city just east of Tel Aviv. Police said a preliminary investigation found the gunman was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on passersby before he was shot by officers at the scene.
The Magen David Adom paramedic service confirmed that five people were killed. Police said one of the victims was a police officer who arrived at the scene and engaged the shooter.
Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that the security forces "will work with all means to return security to Israeli streets and the feeling of security to civilians."
Israeli media reported that the suspected gunman was a 27-year-old Palestinian man from the northern West Bank town of Yabad. Police did not immediately provide information about the suspect.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying the killing of Israeli or Palestinian civilians "only leads to further deterioration of the situation and instability, which we all strive to achieve, especially as we are approaching the holy month of Ramadan and Christian and Jewish holidays."
He said the violence "confirms that permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest way to provide security and stability for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples."
No Palestinian groups immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamist militant group Hamas praised the "heroic operation," but stopped short of claiming responsibility. Mosques in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip blared with "God is Great" cries celebrating the attack.
Israel in recent weeks has been taking steps aimed at calming tensions and avoiding a repeat of last year, when clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators in Jerusalem boiled over into an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
But the new wave of violence is greatly complicating those efforts.
On Sunday, a pair of gunmen killed two young police officers during a shooting spree in the central city of Hadera, and last week, a lone assailant killed four people in a car ramming and stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli security services raided the homes of at least 12 Arab citizens and arrested two suspected of having ties to the Islamic State group in a crackdown sparked by recent deadly attacks.
Hours before the raid, Bennett said the recent assaults inside Israel marked a "new situation" that required stepped-up security measures.
Law enforcement officials said 31 homes and sites were searched overnight in northern Israel, an area that was home to the gunmen who carried out the Hadera attack.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks.
All of the attacks have come just ahead of Ramadan, which begins later this week and as Israel Israel hosted a high-profile meeting this week between the foreign ministers of four Arab nations and the United States.
All four Arab nations — Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — along with the United States, condemned the killings.
Ramadan is expected to begin Saturday.
Deadly attacks by IS inside Israel, and attacks by Arab citizens of Israel, are rare.
The group operates mainly in Iraq and Syria, where it has recently stepped up attacks against security forces. It no longer controls any territory but operates through sleeper cells. IS has claimed attacks against Israeli troops in the past and has branches in Afghanistan and other countries.