Five killed by Palestinian gunman in latest deadly attack in Israel

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An Israeli police forensic expert pauses as he works at the scene of a fatal gun attack in Bnei Brak, Israel (29 March 2022)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Israel's prime minister said the country was "dealing with a new wave of terrorism"

Five people have been shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in a suburb of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, in the third deadly attack of its kind in a week.

It happened on Tuesday evening in Bnei Brak, one of the country's most populous ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas.

The gunman was shot dead by police, a paramedic at the scene said.

Israel security forces were on high alert after attacks by Israeli Arabs last Tuesday and Sunday, which left six people dead.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the country was "currently dealing with a new wave of terrorism".

Footage from the scene in Bnei Brak showed the attacker dressed in black firing an M16 assault rifle on residential streets.

Israeli media reported that he first shot dead two Ukrainian men who were sitting outside a grocery shop. He also opened fire at a passing car, killing a man who was driving it.

He then shot dead a fourth man before being confronted by two police officers. One of the officers was fatally wounded during the exchange, while the second shot and killed the attacker.

Magen David Adom ambulance service paramedic Menachem Englander said he came face-to-face with the gunman, but survived because the rifle jammed.

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Two of the victims were identified as Israeli residents of Bnei Brak - Rabbi Avishai Yehezkel, a 29-year-old father of one, and Yaakov Shalom, a 36-year-old father of five. Rabbi Yehezkel's brother told Kol Chai radio that he was shot while taking a walk and that he "defended his baby with his own body".

Police said the officer who died was Amir Khoury, a 32-year-old Israeli Arab from Nazareth. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told his family that he was a hero who "saved the lives of many civilians".

The Ukrainian embassy confirmed that two Ukrainian citizens were killed in what it called the "heinous terrorist attacks in Bnei Brak". It did not give their names, but they were reportedly in their 20s and 30s. A Ukrainian diplomatic source told AFP news agency that they had been working in Israel for several years.

The attacker was named as Diaa Hamarsheh, a 27-year-old Palestinian from the village of Yabad, in the north of the occupied West Bank. He had previously worked in Bnei Brak and been jailed in Israel for security-related offences.

Three of Hamarsheh's relatives were reportedly among five Palestinians detained for questioning by Israeli forces in the West Bank on Wednesday, as investigators sought to find out if he had accomplices.

"Every few years, the State of Israel deals with a wave of terrorism," Mr Bennett said in a video statement on Tuesday night.

"After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price, whose hatred of Jews, of the State of Israel, drives them crazy."

The prime minister said Israel's security forces had to adapt to "read the tell-tale signs of lone individuals, sometimes without organisational affiliation, and to be in control on the ground in order to thwart terrorism even before it happens".

"They are up to the task and, as in the previous waves, we will prevail this time as well," he added.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Avishai Yehezkel, one of the victims, was buried in Bnei Brak on Wednesday morning

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attack.

"This violence is unacceptable," he said. "Israelis - like all people around the world - should be able to live in peace and without fear."

The shootings were also condemned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"The killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians will only lead to further deterioration of the situation, while we are all striving for stability," he warned.

However, the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack, saying: "We express our blessing to the Tel Aviv operation."

Security had already been stepped up across Israel and in the West Bank in the wake of the two previous attacks.

The first was carried out by an Israeli Arab who had planned to join the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and had served a jail sentence for security crimes. The attacker drove his car into a cyclist, killing him, then stabbed three people to death outside a shopping centre in the southern city of Beersheba.

Five days later, two other Israeli Arabs opened fire at a bus stop in the northern city of Hadera, killing two 19-year-old police officers. IS said it was behind that attack. All three assailants were shot dead.

There had been fears of further incidents in the month ahead, when the Muslim festival of Ramadan, the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian festival of Easter coincide in a rare convergence.