Police outside the Leonardo Club Hotel in Eilat.
Police outside the Leonardo Club Hotel in Eilat. Photo by Jacky Poms
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Zohir Mata / ahlan.co.il
Armando Abed. Photo by Zohir Mata / ahlan.co.il

A 33-year-old Eilat hotel worker was killed on Friday morning by a gunman who stole a firearm from a security guard at the Leonardo Club Hotel in the southern city, and opened fire.

The shooter, a 23-year-old American citizen from New York, also an employee of the hotel, was later killed by police during an exchange of gunfire. The hotel worker, 33-year-old Armando Abed of the West Galilee, was employed in the hotel as a chef.

Guests were instructed to remain in the rooms, following the original shooting. Shortly afterwards, a large police contingent, and counter-terrorism unit arrived on the scene. They started investigating the incident and searched for the suspect.

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Guests were allowed to leave their rooms after the shooter was killed by police fire.

Eyal, a guest at the hotel, spoke to Haaretz about the incident. “We were in the dining room, and suddenly we heard shots fired. Both guests and hotel workers were very frightened. No one understood what was going on."

"Ten seconds later the dining room was blocked off and we were asked to go to our rooms and stay inside,” he said.

Naomi Sela, who is staying at the hotel with her husband and four children, told Haaretz, “We had just arrived to receive our rooms at the reception desk, and suddenly we saw a fight break out between two hotel workers near the entrance. One of the workers took the security guard’s pistol, and even though people tried to break them up, the guy managed to pick up the pistol after it fell.

“When I saw the pistol waving in the air and I heard the gunshot, I ran into the hotel with my kids. Suddenly there were shots, and my husband, who is an amputee, took cover in the lobby, and ran towards the children.

Suddenly he noticed the worker running with the pistol, and thought that the shooter was targeting him, but it turns out he was aiming for someone next to him. The shooter ran away with the pistol, and then my husband fell, and was hurt.”

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The gunman was participating in a program called “Oranim,” Israel Police said. Ofer Gutman, head of Oranim, which is affiliated with Masa Israel Journey, said that the program brings Jews to Israel for work and studies. Masa is a joint project of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel. 

"He was a normal guy," Gutman told The Associated Press. "There was nothing that indicated what would happen in the end." Gutman declined to give the attacker's name.

Gutman spoke by telephone before boarding a flight to Eilat, where he hoped to calm the gunman's fellow program participants. "It's terrible what happened," he said.

The man arrived in Israel about two months ago on the Oranim program, combining Hebrew study, travel and work in an Eilat hotel along with a university course on hotel management, Gutman said. On Tuesday, the hotel and the program decided, together with the man, to terminate his work at the hotel, and the Oranim staff was planning to reassign him to another workplace, Gutman said.

Gutman did not say why it was decided to end his work at the hotel, but said participants sometimes transfer to other workplaces based on their personal preferences.

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According to Israeli media reports, there was a conflict between the shooter and one of the other workers. According to other employees, he was in the process of being fired, and there was some kind of money-related dispute. It is not known why the specific employee was shot and killed.

Zechi Heller, a Magen David Adom spokesperson said that “at precisely 9:06 A.M., we received reports of a shooting at the Leonardo Club Hotel in Eilat. Because the nature of the incident was unknown, we sent large teams to the scene."

“When we arrived we found a man with a severe wound to the head, and our team was forced to declare him dead. A few minutes later, we treated another 9 patients for shock, who were then transferred to the Yoseftal Medical Center."

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A spokesman for the Negev region police, Doron Ben-Amo, also spoke with Haaretz. “At around 9 A.M. a report of a shooting at the Leonardo Club Hotel was received. The incident ended quickly, and further harm to civilians was prevented by fast, and effective action undertaken by Eilat and special forces. The event was strictly of a criminal nature.  Initial investigations point to a conflict between two workers, over money,” said Ben-Amo.