Five Shot Dead Near Tel Aviv in Third Attack in a Week; Palestinian Gunman Killed

The assailant, a 26-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who had previously served time in Israel, was shot dead; Bennett says Israel will fight terrorism 'with an iron fist'

Haaretz reporters
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Footage of the shooter in Bnei Brak, on Tuesday.
Footage of the shooter in Bnei Brak, on Tuesday.Credit: Use under Section 27A of the Copyright Law
Haaretz reporters

A Palestinian gunman killed five people on Tuesday in a suburb of Tel Aviv, in the third deadly attack in Israel within days, prompting police to go on the highest level of alert since the fighting with Gaza last year.

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A police spokesman said that the shooting attack took place in two different areas in Bnei Brak. One of the victims is a police officer who was trying to stop the attacker; the rest were civilians.

Footage from the scene shows the assailant, armed with an assault rifle, entering a convenience store and firing at a young man, who is seen escaping into a nearby building. The shooter then aimed his rifle at another person riding on a bike, but missed, and then opened fire at a passing car. The car came to a stop after the initial fire, at which point the assailant came closer to it and fired through the window at the driver, who was killed.

Police said that the assailant was shot at the scene by a police officer, identified as Amir Khoury, 32, from the northern Israeli city of Nof Hagalil. The shooter is named as Diaa Hamarsheh, a 26-year-old Palestinian from Ya'bad, near Jenin, in the West Bank.

He had apparently been in Israel without permits. The assailant had been arrested by Israel in 2013 for security offenses and served a six-month sentence.

Assailant served time in Israeli prison

While Hamarsheh was affiliated with Fatah during his time in prison, security sources are not associating Tuesday's attack with the organization. Instead, they believe that he was inspired by last week's attacks in Israel and was not backed by any specific organization.

Shin Bet and police are estimating that the assailant obtained the assault rifle in Israeli territory after crossing the separation wall from the West Bank through a breach between Umm al-Fahm and Baka al-Garbiyeh.

According to preliminary findings, Hamarsheh, worked in Bnei Brak and was familiar with the area.

A Palestinian suspect at a construction site near the scene of the crime, also without an entry permit, was arrested.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz convened a situational assessment with the IDF chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet security service, the head of military intelligence and the head of the military's operations division.

The security cabinet will hold a meeting on Wednesday regarding the attack.

Police Chief Kobi Shabtai raised the police's alert level to the highest possible, the highest it has been since the fighting in Gaza in May. Police will be focusing most of their efforts on fighting terror, increasing their presence in the streets.

Following the attack, security forces will hold a series of operations to arrest Palestinians who are residing illegally in Israel, which will require sidelining other tasks related to fighting crime in Arab communities.

Security Minister Bar-Lev said that six Border Police reserve companies are called up to bolster security, three of them were scheduled to join ahead of Ramadan while the remaining three are recruited due to the latest series of attacks.

Bennett decries 'murderous Arab terror wave'

The scene of the attack in Bnei Brak, on Tuesday.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
A suspect arrested by security forces Tuesday evening in Bnei Brak.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who held a meeting in light of the attack with top defense officials, said in a statement: "Israel faces a murderous Arab terror wave... We will fight terrorism with persistence, diligence and an iron fist... We will win."

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that he sends his condolences to the families of the victims. "We have been through difficult times as a nation and as a country against terror waves, and we have always won with determination and strength, and thus it shall be this time as well."

He added, "The entire defense establishment – the IDF, the Shin Bet and the police – will give every effort in order to return security to the streets of Israel and a sense of security to the citizens."

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said that the organization "welcomes the heroic operation, which is a natural response to the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinian people." He added that "This is also a swift response to the shameful summit that was held in the south," referring to the Negev Summit, in which Israel hosted a number of Arab foreign ministers. No group has yet taken responsibility for the shooting.

The al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, the militant wing of Fatah, also welcomed the attack as "a natural response to the crimes of the occupation."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying that killings of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians might lead to escalation, at a "time in which we are striving for stability" ahead of Ramadan, Passover and Easter.

A resident of Ya'bad, the town from which the assailant hailed, told Haaretz that the local mosques sent out announcements that the attacker was a resident, in the name of the different militant groups and political parties.

U.S., U.K. condemn

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted that "My heart goes out to the families of the victims. No one should have to endure such heartbreak."

The scene of the shooting attack in Bnei Brak, on Tuesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss also expressed her condolences on Twitter: "I am deeply saddened by another terrible terror attack in Israel today. My thoughts are with the Israeli people, especially those affected," she wrote. "The U.K. condemns this horrifying and senseless violence."

The IDF and police are stepping up security amid the rising tensions in the West Bank and the areas bordering it. The military has recently expressed concern over a deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem ahead of the Passover and Ramadan holidays, and following several deadly incidents between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

With Land Day approaching on Wednesday, which typically sees large-scale protests and riots against Israel on the Gaza border, factions in the Strip announced that they would be holding the demonstrations by the coast, rather than on the Israeli border. The move was made in order to reduce tensions and to avoid clashes on the border. The IDF is also bolstering its forces on the Gaza border and in the West Bank in preparation for Land Day.

On Sunday, two assailants from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm carried out a shooting attack in Hadera, killing two 19-year-old Border Police members.

Both of the gunmen were Islamic State sympathizers, and were shot dead at the scene. That attack came as foreign ministers from Israel and four Arab countries met in the Negev for a historic summit, along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Overnight Monday, Israeli police arrested twelve people in an operation in the Wadi Ara area, including the city of Umm al-Fahm, on suspicion of various security offenses, including possession of weapons and affiliation with the Islamic State.

Last Tuesday, four people were killed in a stabbing attack in Be'er Sheva; in that attack as well, the assailant was shot dead. He, too, identified with the Islamic State.

Last year, clashes between Israeli police and Muslim protesters during Ramadan boiled over into an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Haaretz reporters Ran Shimoni, Josh Breiner, Aaron Rabinowitz, Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury, Michael Hauser Tov, Ido Efrati and Amos Harel contributed to this report

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