A black-clad gunman killed two people - a man and a young woman - and wounded at least 12 others in an attack on a Tel Aviv gay community center last night.

Four of the wounded suffered serious injuries, a spokesperson for the Magen David Adom emergency service said. Two of the seriously injured were said to be suffering life-threatening wounds. Two were moderately wounded and the rest were lightly wounded.

A police spokesman confirmed the deaths. He added that initial information on the incident suggested that it was "criminal, rather than nationalist." A police spokesperson said the victims had been at the gay community center and that "the police will not limit their thinking in investigating the attack."

The shooter, who was wearing a hood, fled the scene toward Rothschild Boulevard. The police launched a search operation involving dozens of officers in the city center and 47 police cruisers.

The target of the shooting appears to have been a group gathering in a basement meeting room at 28 Nachmani St., near the corner of Ahad Ha'am Street. According to witnesses, the man approached the group with a handgun and opened fire.

The meeting was for a support group for gay teens, which holds weekly activities. The weekly event usually draws up to 30 participants. The building hosts gay and lesbian events every day of the week.

An eyewitness who lives near the building says he heard 12 shots and then people screaming.

The commissioner of the Tel Aviv district police, Shahar Ayalon, said the gunman "would probably not attempt to shoot other people, but would rather disappear for now."

Five of the wounded sustained injuries to their legs and were taken to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. In addition to Wolfson and Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer took in some wounded.

Itzik Dror, a spokesman for the gay and lesbian community, said he was "shocked and shaken" by the event. Another community leader said that all activities for gay and lesbian groups had been suspended. "We thought we were living in a modern country where hate is not the standard," he said.

Gay and lesbian organizations said they will hold an emergency meeting early today to develop policy on community events following the incident.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), who is also a gay rights activist, said after arriving at the shooting scene: "This is the most severe event to have hit the gay and lesbian community in the history of the State of Israel. I hope the shooter is caught. I do not want to come out with a statement, but this is a shocking thing."

There were signs that this was a hate crime, he said.

Barak Ravid contributed to this article.