A Palestinian Arab gunman killed five people in a Tel Aviv suburb on Wednesday before being shot dead. Arab attackers have now killed 11 people in Israeli cities over the last week in a series of assaults. 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”. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says Israeli police and security forces are at their highest alert level since last year’s Gaza war.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack and warned against any retaliatory escalation by Jewish settlers and others. No group has claimed responsibility for the shooting, though some Palestinians linked the gunman to Abbas’ Fatah party. “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.
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. Magen David Adom ambulance service paramedic Menachem Englander said he came face-to-face with the gunman, but survived because the rifle jammed.
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 the AFP news agency that they had been working in Israel for several years. One of the Ukrainians killed in the attack had a wife in Israel. His friend, Yulian, told the Haaretz news agency that the couple was building a house in Ukraine “He invested all the money he earned in construction in that house. They wanted to leave Israel in Easter if the war had ended by them.” Yulian added that his friend’s mother and family are in Ukraine and that the families of both victims are trying to transfer their bodies for burial in Ukraine. “It’s dangerous here and it’s dangerous there, I don’t know where to go anymore,” he said.
The attacker was named 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.