Tel Aviv: The Israeli regime clamped down on Palestinian movements and boosted security on Thursday after two Palestinians shot dead four people at a popular Tel Aviv nightspot, the deadliest attack in a months-long wave of violence.
Officials said they were suspending entry permits for 83,000 Palestinians during the month of Ramadan in a move that was likely to further stoke tensions following the Wednesday night shooting that shocked Israelis.
The attack saw two Palestinians dressed in black open fire as patrons sat at a cafe terrace at the Sarona Market in Israel’s commercial capital, police said.
A witness said it seemed at least one of the gunmen had been sitting at the cafe before standing with a rifle and firing.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld could not confirm reports that the attackers were disguised as ultra-Orthodox Jews, but said they had been wearing black suits.
Five people were wounded in addition to the four killed, and the shooting spread panic, with police clearing the area and crowds running for cover.
Details on the victims were not yet clear.
Police said one of the attackers was arrested, while the other was wounded by gunfire and had undergone surgery.
The market and complex of bars and restaurants is located across the street from Israel’s defence ministry and main army headquarters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the scene of what he called the “cold-blooded terrorist murder” after returning from a trip to Moscow and conferred with senior colleagues, including newly installed hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“We discussed a range of offensive and defensive steps which we shall take in order to act against this phenomenon,” Netanyahu’s office quoted the premier as saying.
“There will be intensive action by the police, the army and other security services, not just to catch every accomplice to this murder but also to prevent further incidents.”
Police said the two attackers were cousins from the Hebron area in the West Bank, and one of the Israeli authorities’ first moves was to revoke tens of thousands of entry permits.
“All permits for Ramadan, especially permits for family visits from Judea and Samaria to Israel, are frozen,” said a statement from COGAT, the defence ministry unit which manages civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.
Israelis refer to the West Bank by its biblical names, Judea and Samaria.
It said that 83,000 Palestinians would be affected, adding that hundreds of residents of the Gaza Strip who had received permits to visit relatives and holy sites during Ramadan would also have access frozen.
It said it had frozen permits for 204 relatives of one of the alleged attackers.
Ramadan began on Sunday night, and thousands of Palestinians visit the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, each week during Ramadan.
The shooting drew international condemnation, with the United States calling it a “horrific terrorist attack”.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov said “all must reject violence and say no to terror”.
“I am also shocked to see Hamas welcome the terror attack. Leaders must stand against violence and the incitement that fuels it, not condone it,” he said in a statement.
A spokesman for Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai quoted him as saying “we will not be able to put a policeman on every street corner”.
“The lone assailant can appear from any corner,” he said. “That is the reality with which we have to live.”
The city however said in a statement it was increasing security at schools and municipal buildings.
Violence since October has killed at least 207 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese.
Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, mostly against uniformed Israelis.
Others were killed in clashes or by Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
The violence has steadily declined in recent weeks, though attacks have continued to occur.
Shooting attacks such as the one that occurred on Wednesday night have been rare, though Tel Aviv has seen two other major incidents in recent months.
In March, as US Vice-President Joe Biden visited, a Palestinian went on a stabbing spree along the Tel Aviv waterfront, killing an American tourist and wounding 12 people.
On January 1, a Palestinian citizen of Israel killed three people in a rampage in Tel Aviv.
Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and colony-building on occupied land, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest.
Last week in Paris, representatives from 28 countries, the Arab League, European Union and United Nations met to discuss ways of restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Negotiations have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Following last week’s meeting, France hopes to hold an international peace conference before the end of the year.
Israel strongly opposes the French plan, calling instead for direct negotiations, while the Palestinians support it.