Shooting kills at least 4 in Israel

A gunman on a motorbike opened fire Tuesday night in a crowded city in central Israel, killing at least four people in the second mass shooting this week. The shooter was killed by the police.

While the circumstances were not immediately clear, the shooting appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Israeli media said the attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. The two previous attacks, carried out by Arab citizens of Israel inspired by the Islamic State, raised fears of further violence.

Tuesday’s shooting occurred at two locations in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town just east of Tel Aviv. Police said in a statement that a preliminary investigation found the shooter was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on bystanders before being shot by officers at the scene.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called an emergency meeting of senior security officials on Tuesday.

Bennett pledged in a statement to fight the violence “with perseverance, stubbornness and an iron fist”. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that security forces “will work in every way to restore security to Israeli streets and a sense of security for civilians.”

Israeli police search a car at the scene of the shooting in Bnei Brak on Tuesday. The shooter was killed by the police. (Oded Balilty/Associated Press)

Israeli media reported that the suspected shooter was a 27-year-old Palestinian from the northern West Bank town of Yabad. Police did not immediately provide information on the suspect.

Amateur video footage shown on Israeli television appeared to show a gunman in a black shirt armed with an assault rifle firing into a moving vehicle.

Series of attacks

Two gunmen killed two young policemen in a shootout in the central town of Hadera on Sunday, and last week a lone assailant killed four people in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in the southern town of Beersheba.

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli security services raided the homes of at least 12 Arab citizens and arrested two suspects of having ties to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in a crackdown triggered by the recent deadly attacks.

Hours before the raid, Bennett said the recent attacks inside Israel marked a “new situation” that required heightened security measures.

Forensic experts are working at the scene of the attack in Bnei Brak on Tuesday. (Nir Elijah/Reuters)

Law enforcement officials said 31 homes and sites were searched overnight in northern Israel, an area that housed the gunmen who carried out the Hadera attack.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks.

Israeli leaders condemned the killings and highlighted the moment. Both attacks took place ahead of Ramadan, which begins later this week, and as Israel hosted a high-profile meeting this week between the foreign ministers of four Arab countries and the United States. The four Arab nations – Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – as well as the United States, have condemned the killings.

Ramadan is expected to start on Saturday. Last year, clashes between Israeli police and Muslim protesters during the holy month escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Hamas hailed the shooting as a “heroic operation”.

Israel has taken steps to ease tensions with the Palestinians this year to avoid a recurrence of violence. Deadly Islamic State attacks inside Israel and attacks on Arab citizens of Israel are rare.

The group operates primarily in Iraq and Syria, where it has recently stepped up attacks on security forces. It no longer controls any territory but operates through sleeper cells. Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli troops in the past, has branches in Afghanistan and other countries.