Israeli troops kill Palestinian attacker after manhunt

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli security forces on Friday hounded and killed a Palestinian man who opened fire in a crowded bar in central Tel Aviv, killing two and injuring more than 10 in an attack that sparked scenes of mass panic in the heart of the bustling city.

It was the fourth deadly attack in Israel by Palestinians in three weeks, and came at a time of heightened tensions around the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Later in the day, thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank would enter Jerusalem for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was scheduled to meet with top security officials Friday morning. It was not immediately clear whether Israel would proceed or change its plan to allow Palestinian believers into Jerusalem. Protests and clashes in the holy city during Ramadan last year eventually sparked an 11-day Gaza war.

“We will expand our actions against the wave of terror through attack, defense and intelligence,” Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said ahead of the meeting. “The price we pay from the attackers and those who send them will be heavy.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in a busy bar on Dizengoff Street, a central artery where other attacks have been carried out over the years. Thursday night is the start of the Israeli weekend, and the area was packed with people in bars and restaurants.

Videos circulated on social media showed dozens of terrified people running through the streets as police searched for the attacker and ordered people to stay indoors.

Hundreds of Israeli police officers, dog units and special army troops had staged a massive manhunt throughout Tel Aviv throughout Tel Aviv throughout the night, searching building by building in densely populated residential areas.

Early Friday, authorities said they found the attacker hiding near a mosque in Jaffa, an Arab neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv, and killed him in a gun battle.

Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai said his troops, the military and the Shin Bet security agency had spent a “difficult night” tracking down the attacker.

“We managed this morning, through intelligence and operational cooperation, to close the loop and kill the terrorist in a firefight,” he said.

The Shin Bet identified the attacker as Raad Hazem, a 28-year-old Palestinian man from Jenin, in the occupied West Bank.

It indicated that he had acted alone, saying that he did not belong to an organized militant group and had no criminal record. He said he entered Israel illegally without a permit.

The Jenin refugee camp was the scene of one of the deadliest battles of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. In April 2002, Israeli forces fought Palestinian militants in the camp for nearly three weeks. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers and at least 52 Palestinians, including civilians, were killed, according to the United Nations.

The Israeli army regularly makes arrests in Jenin, often under fire. The Palestinian Authority, which manages parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates security with Israel, appears to have little control over the area.

After Thursday’s attack, 13 Israelis have been killed in recent weeks, making it one of the worst waves of violence in years.

The militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip praised the attack but did not claim responsibility.

The attacks pose a challenge to the Israeli authorities. All attackers appear to have acted individually or with minimal support from a small cell. Three of them are said to have identified themselves with the Islamic State extremist group. But militant groups do not appear to have trained them or staged the attacks.

To prevent a repeat of last year’s war, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders have held a series of rallies in recent weeks to keep calm.

Israel has taken a number of steps to ease tensions, including issuing thousands of additional work permits for Palestinians from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But the attacks have sparked a growing call in Israel for tougher action.

Prior to the attack, Israel had said it would allow women, children and men over 40 from the occupied West Bank to pray Friday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, the first weekly prayers of the Israelis. Ramadan. Tens of thousands were expected and thousands of police officers were to be mobilized for the rallies. It was not clear how Thursday’s shooting would affect those plans.

The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and sits on a hilltop that is the most sacred site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. The holy site has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israel has worked in recent years to sideline the Palestinian issue and instead focus on forging alliances with Arab states against Iran. But the age-old conflict remains as persistent as ever.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians want all three areas to form their future state. The last substantive peace talks broke down more than a decade ago and Bennett is against the Palestinian state, although he supports steps to improve their economy and daily quality of life.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. It is building and expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which most of the international community considers illegal.

It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. But along with neighboring Egypt, it placed a crippling blockade on the area after the militant Hamas group seized power from rival Palestinian forces two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since then.

Israel says the conflict stems from Palestinians’ refusal to accept their right to exist as a Jewish state and blames attacks in part on social media incitement. Palestinians say such attacks are the inevitable result of a nearly 55-year military occupation that shows no sign of an end.

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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