Search for Alleged Tel Aviv Gunman Turns to Northern Wadi Ara Area

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Police searching for alleged gunman Nashat Melhem in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2016.
Police searching for alleged gunman Nashat Melhem in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2016.Credit: Reuters

The search for the man who police believe murdered three people in Tel Aviv last Friday is now focusing on the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel. The police and Shin Bet security service think Nashat Melhem is hiding either in Wadi Ara, where he lived, or the West Bank, and that an accomplice may have helped him escape.

On Friday, large amounts of security forces were searching for Melhem in the northern Arara area.

Melhem’s father, Mohammed Melhem, will remain in custody at least until Sunday, after Haifa Magistrate’s Court extended his arrest on Thursday by three days. Police believe the father is concealing information that could help locate the suspect, who allegedly shot to death two people at the Simta Bar on Dizengoff Street and a taxi driver in north Tel Aviv. Seven other people were wounded in the terror attack in central Tel Aviv.

The court also ordered a family friend and a different relative held through Sunday. Nahmi Feinblatt, the lawyer representing the three men, said after Thursday’s detention hearing that he believed all three would be released on Sunday, and “the mystery of the perpetrator’s whereabouts would be cleared up.”

Feinblatt noted that the police had requested a 10-day extension of the men’s detention, and that he believed the court agreed to the three-day extension only after some deliberation.

Bader Melhem, an uncle of the suspect, was released from custody on Thursday.

An East Jerusalem man was released from custody Thursday without restrictive conditions, three days after being arrested in connection with the Melhem case. His name was not released for publication but the man’s brother, identifying himself only by his first name, Mohammed, said his brother was arrested only because he worked at the same place as Melhem. Mohammed said his brother had talked on the phone with Melhem, the day before last Friday’s shooting, about money they were owed by a contractor they both worked for.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel asked Deputy Attorney General Attorney Raz Nizri to investigate the conduct of the police during the search for Melhem in north Tel Aviv earlier this week. Arab residents reported that officers searched their apartments without permission and without showing a search warrant.