A 49-year-old man was shot to death by a masked man holding up an Upper Nazareth postal bank on Monday.

The gunman escaped with thousands of shekels and was still at large as of Monday night. Police are searching the area on the ground and by helicopter.

"I heard him say, 'Holdup, holdup! Give me the money!" said Zvi Goren, one of three customers and two tellers who was in the Harod Street post office when the robbery took place around 10:30 A.M. on Monday. In Israel the post office also serves as a bank.

"I called the cops right away, and then I heard shots," said Goren.

David Mashashvili, who lives in Upper Nazareth, was shot in the head and torso while attempting to keep the gunman from escaping.

He died at Haemek Hospital in Afula.

Police advise workers and customers at businesses that are frequently targeted by robbers - such as banks, post offices and gas stations - not to try to stop them.

Shai Hajaj, also of Upper Nazareth, just barely avoided a confrontation with the armed robber. Hajaj was standing at the entrance to the post office - a small branch that, unlike many post offices, does not have a security guard - when someone pushed past him.

"I wanted to say something to him, to ask him why he pushed, but I didn't," said Hajaj. When he heard the man informing the tellers that he was robbing the place, Hajaj could hardly believe his ears.

"I couldn't take it in," he said. "I thought he was kidding, and then I heard two shots. Everyone ran outside and hid, and then I saw the robber leaving the post office and running. The police arrived a very short time later, 20 or 30 seconds."

Witnesses described the suspect as being about 1.85 meters tall and said he was wearing black clothes and a black winter hat during the robbery.

This is not the first time the Harod Street post office, located on the ground floor of a mixed residential and office building, has been robbed.

Despite the fact that Monday's incident marks the third time in recent years that the post office has been held up, according to residents who live nearby, the branch has yet to hire a security guard.

The postal service said decisions about which branches receive guards are made in accordance with police guidelines.

But to judge by police data, guards aren't always a sufficient deterrent. A post office in Petah Tikva was held up last week, despite having a security guard posted at the entrance, police said.