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On Friday morning, Israeli security forces tracked down and killed a Palestinian man who opened fire on a crowded bar in central Tel Aviv, killing two people and injuring more than 10 in an attack that sparked scenes of panic in the heart of the bustling city.
It was the fourth deadly attack by Palestinians in Israel in three weeks, and came at a time of heightened tensions around the start of Ramadan. Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month in Jerusalem amid a heavy Israeli security presence, with no immediate reports of unrest.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with senior security officials and announced that a major crossing point in the northern West Bank near the attacker’s hometown would be closed indefinitely.
“Every murderer will know we will get there, and anyone who helps terrorists should know that the price they will pay will be unbearable,” Bennett said in a statement.
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Israel continued its plans to allow Palestinian women, children and elderly men from the occupied West Bank to enter Jerusalem to pray. Protests and clashes in the holy city during Ramadan last year eventually sparked an 11-day war in Gaza.
Thursday’s shooting took place at a crowded bar on Dizengoff Street, a central thoroughfare that has seen other attacks over the years. Thursday night is the start of the Israeli weekend, and the area was packed with people in bars and restaurants.
In videos posted on social media, dozens of terrified people were seen running through the streets as police searched for the attacker and ordered people to stay indoors. The deceased has been identified as Tomer Morad and Eytam Magini, childhood friends in their late twenties from Kfar Saba, a town just north of Tel Aviv.
Hundreds of Israeli police officers, canine units and army special forces conducted a massive all-night manhunt across Tel Aviv, searching building by building in densely populated residential neighborhoods.
On Friday morning, authorities said they found the attacker hiding near a mosque in Jaffa, an Arab neighborhood south of Tel Aviv, and killed him in a shootout.
The Shin Bet internal security service identified the attacker as Raad Hazem, a 28-year-old Palestinian from Jenin in the occupied West Bank. He said he did not belong to an organized militant group and had no priors. He said he entered Israel illegally without a permit.
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Jenin refugee camp was the scene of one of the deadliest battles of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, 20 years ago. In April 2002, Israeli forces fought Palestinian militants in the camp for almost three weeks. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers and at least 52 Palestinians, including civilians, were killed, according to the United Nations.
The Israeli army frequently conducts arrest raids in Jenin, often coming under fire. The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates security issues with Israel, appears to have little control over the region.
After Thursday’s attack, 13 Israelis have been killed in recent weeks, making it one of the worst waves of violence in years.
The Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip welcomed the attack but did not claim responsibility. President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the PA, condemned the attack, saying the killing of civilians on both sides “can only lead to a further deterioration of the situation”.
All attackers appear to have acted individually or with minimal support from a small cell. Three of them reportedly identified with the extremist group Islamic State. But militant groups do not appear to have trained them or organized the attacks.
Seeking to avoid a repeat of last year’s war, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders have held a series of meetings in recent weeks to discuss ways to maintain calm.
Israel has taken a number of steps aimed at easing tensions, including issuing thousands of additional work permits to Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But the attacks have sparked growing calls in Israel for a tougher crackdown.
On Friday, Israel allowed women, children and men over the age of 40 from the occupied West Bank to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. The Muslim body that oversees the site said 80,000 people attended the prayers.
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Police have mobilized thousands of forces in and around the Old City, home to Al-Aqsa and other holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and sits on a hill that is the holiest site to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. The holy site has long been a hotbed of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel has sought to sideline the Palestinian issue in recent years, focusing instead on forming alliances with Arab states against Iran. But the conflict remains as insoluble as ever.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians want the three territories to form their future state. The last substantive peace talks broke down more than a decade ago, and Bennett is opposed to a Palestinian state, although he supports moves to improve their economy and quality of life.
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Israel annexed East Jerusalem in an internationally unrecognized move and considers the entire city its capital. It builds and expands Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which most of the international community considers illegal.
Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. But along with neighboring Egypt, it imposed a crippling blockade on the territory after the militant group Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since then.
Israel says the conflict stems from the Palestinians’ refusal to accept their right to exist as a Jewish state and attributes the attacks in part to incitement on social media. The Palestinians say such attacks are the inevitable result of a nearly 55-year military occupation that shows no signs of ending.