Two gunmen have opened fire in a bustling shopping and restaurant precinct in central Tel Aviv, killing four people and wounding five others. The violence erupted on a warm Wednesday evening local time in Tel Aviv's Sarona area that features outdoor entertainment, cafes and pedestrian areas, immediately next to the Israel Defence Ministry. The complex is often filled with tourists and young soldiers in uniform.
How did the victims die?
Four victims died of their gunshot wounds in the emergency room, said Gil Fire, the deputy director of Tel Aviv's central Ichilov Hospital.
What about the wounded?
Three of the wounded also had life-threatening gunshot wounds, but doctors managed to stabilise them, he said.
Where are the shooters?
One was shot by police and was also being treated in the same hospital, while the second shooter was overpowered without being wounded and being interrogated, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
What do we know about them?
The two were Palestinians in their 20s from the southern West Bank town of Yatta, Luba Samri said, adding they were cousins. Witnesses said the two gunmen, dressed in dark clothing and appearing to be regular customers, sat down in Sarona's Max Brenner cafe and ordered food. But they then pulled guns out of their bags and began shooting, first inside, then outside. Security guards shot back.
What happened at the scene?
Footage from a surveillance camera showed people rushing in panic into another cafe. Channel 10 aired CCTV footage from inside a restaurant showing two men in suits shooting at diners as they run away from their tables. One of the attackers shoots a man on the ground and waves a knife before running out. Other footage aired on Channel 2 showed a policeman firing at one of the two shooters as bystanders screamed.
How did people react?
A saleswoman at a clothing chain, Meital Ganon, said clients ran into her store, shouting "Terrorists! terrorists!" She added: "We shut the doors. People knocked on the doors to let them in and we opened them to let them in". Some of her clients fainted. "I was with the family, eating pizza. We heard the shots, we didn't know what was happening, and everybody got down on the floor. We managed to escape to a cellar," a woman, who gave her name only as Annette, told Channel 10 television. Meital Sassi told Channel 10 she was out with her family celebrating her son's birthday at the Sarona market when she heard shots and "immediately understood it was a terror attack. We ran like lighting with the baby and the stroller. I yelled at people who didn't understand what was happening to run."
Police said they had no advance intelligence of any plan to strike in Tel Aviv. Police had initially said there might be a third attacker but later ruled that out after extensive searches and examining security camera footage. The frequency of Palestinian street attacks in Israel, which have included stabbings, shootings and the ramming of cars into pedestrians, has slowed significantly in the past several months, although tension has remained high. Shlomi Hajaj, director of the market, told Channel 10 that security guards at the entrance prevented the attackers from entering, "averting a bigger disaster" as the market was packed with people.
How many have died in the wider violence?
In the last half year, Palestinian attacks have killed 31 Israelis and two visiting US citizens. Israeli forces have shot dead at least 196 Palestinians, 134 of whom Israel has said were assailants. Others were killed in clashes and protests.
Has Tel Aviv been attacked before?
Most of the attacks have been in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, territories Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 war which the Palestinians want for their future state. But Tel Aviv, Israel's most cosmopolitan city, has not been spared. A member of Israel's Arab minority went on a shooting rampage on New Year's Day, killing three people. And in March a Palestinian went on stabbing spree, killing an American and wounding seven other people before he was shot and killed.
What has been the political reaction?
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai urged the public to remain calm. "No terrorism will bring us down," he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held urgent consultations at the Defence Ministry just opposite the site where the shooting took place. He called the attack a "cold blooded murder by despicable terrorists". Ismail Haniya, the Gaza-based leader of Hamas, retweeted a picture of what appeared to be the shooter who was shot, with the caption: "One of the heroes of the Tel Aviv operation." Hamas did not claim responsibility for the attack. But Hamas official Mushir al-Masri called the shootings a "heroic operation" and the group later issued an official statement promising the "Zionists" more "surprises" during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
- DPA, Reuters, AP