JERUSALEM (AP) — A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire Tuesday night in a crowded city in central Israel, methodically gunning down victims as he killed at least five people in the second mass shooting this week. The shooter was killed by the police.
Israeli media said the attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. The two previous attacks, carried out by Arab citizens of Israel inspired by the extremist group Islamic State, raised fears of further violence.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to fight terrorism “with perseverance, stubbornness and an iron fist”. He held an emergency meeting of senior security officials and scheduled a meeting of his security cabinet for Wednesday.
Israeli authorities have not yet determined whether the series of attacks was organized or whether the attackers acted individually. The Israeli army announced that it would deploy additional troops to the West Bank, and the police chief raised national readiness to an all-time high.
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Amateur video footage shown on Israeli television appeared to show the black-shirted gunman 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 attempted to fire.
Tuesday’s shootings took place at two locations in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town just east of Tel Aviv. Police said a preliminary investigation revealed the shooter was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on bystanders before being shot by officers at the scene.
The Magen David Adom paramedic service confirmed that five people had been killed. Police say one of the victims was a police officer who arrived on the scene and hired the shooter.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that security forces “will work in every way to restore security to Israeli streets and a sense of security for civilians.”
Israeli media reported that the suspected shooter was a 27-year-old Palestinian from the northern West Bank town of Yabad. Police did not immediately provide information on the suspect.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying the killing of Israeli or Palestinian civilians “only aggravates the situation and the instability, which we are all striving to achieve, to especially as we approach the holy month of Ramadan and Christian and Jewish holidays.
He said the violence “confirms that a permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest path to bring security and stability to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.”
No Palestinian group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamist militant group Hamas hailed the “heroic operation”, but refrained from claiming responsibility. Mosques in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip rang out with cries of “God is great” celebrating the attack.
In recent weeks, Israel has taken steps aimed at easing tensions and avoiding a repeat of last year, when clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas.
But the new wave of violence greatly complicates these efforts.
Two gunmen killed two young policemen in a shootout in the central town of Hadera on Sunday, and last week a lone assailant killed four people in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in the southern town of Beersheba.
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Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli security services raided the homes of at least 12 Arab citizens and arrested two suspects of having ties to the Islamic State group in a crackdown sparked by the recent deadly attacks.
Hours before the raid, Bennett said the recent attacks inside Israel marked a “new situation” that required heightened security measures.
Law enforcement officials said 31 homes and sites were searched overnight in northern Israel, an area that housed the gunmen who carried out the Hadera attack.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks.
All of the attacks took place just before Ramadan, which begins later this week and as Israel hosted a high-profile meeting this week between the foreign ministers of four Arab countries and the United States.
The four Arab nations – Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – as well as the United States, have condemned the killings.
Ramadan is expected to start on Saturday.
Deadly ISIS attacks inside Israel and attacks on Arab citizens of Israel are rare.
The group operates primarily in Iraq and Syria, where it has recently stepped up attacks on security forces. It no longer controls any territory but operates through sleeper cells. IS has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli troops in the past and has branches in Afghanistan and other countries.