JERUSALEM (AP) – A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire in a city in central Israel late Tuesday, methodically shooting down victims as he killed at least five people in the third street attack in a week. The shooter was killed by police.
Israeli media said the attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank, the third Arab attacker to launch an attack on the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The previous two attacks, carried out by Arab citizens of Israel inspired by the Islamic State extremist group, have raised concerns about further violence.
Israel “stands for a wave of deadly Arab terrorism,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. He promised to fight it “with persistence, stubbornness and an iron fist.” He held an emergency meeting of top security officials and scheduled a meeting of his security cabinet on Wednesday.
The Israeli authorities have not yet determined whether the attacks were organized or whether the attackers acted individually. The Israeli army announced that it would deploy additional troops to the West Bank, and the police chief raised the national readiness level to its highest.
Amateur video footage broadcast on television showed the gunman in a black shirt armed with an assault rifle stopping a moving car and shooting the driver. Another showed him looking at a cyclist, with the gun appearing to block as he tried to shoot.
Tuesday’s shootings took place at two locations in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city just east of Tel Aviv. Police said a preliminary investigation found the gunman was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on passers-by before he was shot by officers at the scene.
The paramedic service of Magen David Adom confirmed that five people were killed. Police said one of the victims was a police officer who came to the scene and deployed the shooter.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that the security forces “will work by all means to bring security back to Israeli streets and the sense of security for civilians.”
Israeli media reported that the suspected gunman was a 27-year-old Palestinian man from the northern West Bank city of Yabad. The police did not immediately provide information about the suspect.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying that the killing of Israeli or Palestinian citizens “only leads to further deterioration of the situation and instability, which we all strive to achieve, especially as we approaching the holy month of Ramadan and Christian and Jewish holidays.
He said the violence “confirms that permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest way to provide security and stability for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.”
No Palestinian groups have claimed immediate responsibility for the attack. The Islamic militant group Hamas praised the “heroic operation”, but stopped claiming responsibility.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to calm tensions and prevent a repeat of last year, when clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
But the new wave of violence greatly complicates those efforts.
On Sunday, a couple of gunmen killed two young policemen in a shooting in the central city of Hadera, and last week a lone attacker killed four people in a car ram and stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli security forces raided the homes of at least 12 Arab civilians and arrested two people suspected of links to the Islamic State group in an attack of recent deadly attacks.
Hours before the raid, Bennett said the recent attacks in Israel marked a “new situation” that required reinforced security measures.
Law enforcement officials said 31 houses and places were searched during the night in northern Israel, an area that was home to the weapons that carried out the Hadera attack.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks.
All attacks came just before Ramadan, which begins later this week and because Israel organized a high-profile meeting this week between the foreign ministers of four Arab nations and the United States.
All four Arab nations – Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – along with the United States, condemned the killings.
Ramadan is expected to begin on Saturday.
Lethal attacks by IS in Israel, and attacks by Arab citizens of Israel, are rare.
The group operates mainly in Iraq and Syria, where it has recently intensified attacks against security forces. It no longer controls territory, but works through sleeping cells. IS has in the past claimed attacks on troops and has Israeli branches in Afghanistan and other countries.