ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Suspected bomb found on a bus in a settlement; none hurt

3 wounded, including 1 critically, in central Tel Aviv terror shooting

Police say gunman shot dead after opening fire at people outside cafe on Dizengoff Street; another victim in serious condition; Hamas claims terrorist as member

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

  • The scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    The scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
  • The Palestinian gunman who carried out a shooting attack in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    The Palestinian gunman who carried out a shooting attack in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
  • Police and medics at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
    Police and medics at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
  • The scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
    The scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
  • Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
  • Police and medics at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    Police and medics at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
  • Israel's Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai arrives at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Jack Guez / AFP)
    Israel's Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai arrives at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Jack Guez / AFP)
  • Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
  • Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)
    Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff Street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)

Three people were shot and wounded in a terrorist shooting near a cafe in central Tel Aviv on Thursday night, police and medics said.

Police said the Palestinian attacker opened fire at people outside the cafe on the corner of Dizengoff Street and Ben Gurion Street, an area typically bustling on Thursday night. He then fled the scene while shooting at other people in the area, before being shot dead in a shootout with police officers a short time later.

One victim was listed in critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery and was still fighting for his life, said doctors at Ichilov Medical Center, where the injured were taken. The other two were listed in serious and moderate condition, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said.

The hospital said the critically wounded victim was stabilized and was to undergo surgery along with the other man who was seriously hurt. Another two victims were brought to the hospital to be treated for anxiety.

Police said they were treating the shooting as a terror attack.

In graphic footage from the moment of the attack, a man in a black jacket can be seen walking briskly behind a group of three men before pulling out a pistol and opening fire at them from point-blank range. He can then be seen trying to flee as panicked cafe patrons take cover.

An eyewitness to the attack told Ynet: “I saw a terrorist and I hid. I saw policemen running toward the corner of the building. A shootout started between them. He came [out from behind the building] and they neutralized him,” the eyewitness said.

The shooter was later identified as 23-year-old Mutaz Salah al-Khawaja, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Ni’lin, who had been twice jailed in Israel.

He was shot dead by four armed people, including two police officers who were at the scene, one of whom was off duty, law enforcement officials said. The other two included a civilian and a reserve IDF officer.

The Hamas terror group said al-Khawaja was a member of its armed wing. He did not have an entry permit to Israel when he carried out the attack.

In a statement, Hamas said the attack came as a “natural response” to recent deadly Israeli military raids in the West Bank, but did not explicitly take responsibility for the shooting.

Images from surveillance camera video showed al-Khawaja during the shooting.

The Palestinian gunman who carried out a shooting attack in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Courtesy: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Several videos also showed the moments he was shot by officers.

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai said that the fast reaction of the armed individuals prevented a much worse situation.

“We had a lot of luck here,” said Shabtai, “the fast reaction of the cops and citizens on the site prevented the murder of hundreds of people.”

He said police know how the terrorist entered the country illegally but declined to provide those details at this time.

The attack served to ratchet up already high tensions between Israel and Palestinians, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Those tensions have ramped up even further in recent weeks amid a cycle of Israeli raids and Palestinian revenge attacks, as well as an uptick in settler violence.

Israeli forces entered the West Bank town of Ni’lin, near Ramallah, shortly after midnight and were at the home of al-Khawaja, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. The raid came after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the defense establishment to “immediately” begin work to demolish the terrorist’s home, though the troops were likely only permitted to carry out surveying work.

Elsewhere in the West Bank later Thursday, several infiltration alerts sounded in the settlement of Beitar Illit after a suspected explosive device was discovered on a bus. Residents were ordered by the military’s Home Front Command to remain in their homes and lock their doors and windows until further notice.

According to the Rescuers Without Border emergency service, a suspicious bag with a suspected explosive device was found on the bus. Surveillance camera footage said to be from the bus showed a person leaving the vehicle, before smoke was seen from one of the seats. Another man was then seen running out of the bus.

Earlier Thursday, undercover police officers killed three Palestinian Islamic Jihad members who opened fire at them in the West Bank village of Jaba’.

The terror attack shook Tel Aviv at the tail end of a tumultuous day that saw masses of Israelis throughout the country engage in protests against the government’s plans to weaken the judiciary, and as protest marches and events were ongoing in multiple locations in the city.

Police at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)

In light of the attack, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on anti-government protesters to clear the streets in order to allow police to secure the area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting Italy, was updated about the shooting while attending an event at the Spanish Synagogue in Rome.

“We will continue to build our nation, we will continue to deepen our roots, and to build our common future. As brothers and sisters,” he said, sending his prayers to those wounded and praising the security forces operating in the area.

The assembled guests then sung Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.

Netanyahu later participated by phone in a security consultation. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel that there were currently no changes in his schedule in Rome, where is due to meet Friday with his counterpart Giorgia Meloni before spending the weekend there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being informed of the terror attack in Tel Aviv while in a synagogue in Rome, March 9, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog said he was praying for the health of those hurt in the attack, which occurred shortly after he gave a speech calling on Netanyahu’s government to abandon its plans for overhauling the judiciary, and instead advance changes with broad consensus.

“In these difficult times, our strength is in our unity,” he said in a statement.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded by saying terror must be dealt with forcefully and “without hesitation.”

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted that he was “shocked by tonight’s brazen terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that targeted innocent people. Praying for those who were injured.”

A string of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent months has left 14 Israelis dead and several more seriously hurt.

At least 74 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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