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A gunman shot dead two people and wounded at least 15 others in an attack at a central Tel Aviv gay and lesbian center Saturday night before fleeing the scene.

Israel Police said that the incident at the club on Nahmani Street did not have a terror motive. The two victims were initially identified as a 24-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman.

Witnesses told Israeli television that the black-clad, masked gunman stormed into the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association building and opened fire in a basement room where gay teenagers were holding a weekly support group.

Most of the casualties were minors, a police spokesman said, adding that the assailant was believed to have used an automatic weapon such as an M-16 rifle.

Channel 10 television reported that a police manhunt for the gunman was underway in the city. The channel also said that police had closed all the gay clubs in the area following the attack.

Witnesses said the gunman entered the center at around 11 P.M. and opened fire in all directions.


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Magen David Adom emergency service said that five of the wounded had been taken for treatment to Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, two of them in critical condition.

Five others who were lightly hurt were taken to the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

Tel Aviv District Police chief, Major General Shahar Ayalon, said that there had been a gathering of young people at the center in which the attack took place. He said that police officers had been deployed across the area in the wake of the shooting.

An eyewitness said that he had been sitting at nearby Cafe Noir when he heard gunshots.

"We saw a woman running toward us covered in blood," Adi Shimoni told Channel 10. "We saw the gunman flee in the direction of Ahad Ha'am [Street]... He was wearing what looked like a ski mask."

Shimoni said that he had then entered the club, where "there were many wounded and a lot of blood."

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, Israel's only openly gay lawmaker, condemned the attack on as a hate crime.

"This is undoubtedly the worst incident targeting the gay community in Israel. It has the characteristics of a hate crime, of someone who attacked to blindly strike out at every person on the spot," he said.

'There was nowhere to run'

A 16-year-old victim of the shooting said on Saturday that he feared the incident would force others to disclose their homosexuality.

"I'm horrified to think that this is the way the parents of some of my friends will find out," Or Gil, who was taken to Ichilov Hospital following a knee and chest injury, told Haaretz.

"At about 10.40 P.M. someone came over, all dressed in black and wearing a black mask," he recounted. "I thought it was a joke at first, but he immediately opened fire. People took cover under the bed and tables, but there were no screams. I hid under a table with someone else. It's a small place; there's just one terrace. Once you're inside, there's nowhere to run."

Gil came to the center every week to take part in activities for teenagers.

"It's for 14- to 21-year-olds," he said. "Teenagers just hang out there, talking and listening to music."

"I love this place," Gil concluded, "but I don't know if I will ever go back there. I want to, but it's too soon to say."