If they can strike in Tel Aviv, “they can strike everywhere”

The well-prepared operation caught Israel by surprise. Hezbollah and Hamas celebrate the attack. Palestinians are banned from Israel. Lieberman orders a stop to returning dead Palestinians to their families. Arab Israelis are against the violence.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Yesterday’s Tel Aviv attack caught Israel by surprise. “It was well prepared”. The attackers and those who helped them wanted to send a clear message, namely that “they can strike everywhere,” Yedidia Sermoneta, an Israeli Mideast expert, told AsiaNews.

Wednesday evening, two Palestinians opened fire in a shopping area in central Tel Aviv, killing four people and wounding 12. The two are Mohammad Khaled Makhamrah, 22, and Mohammad Ahmad Makhamrah, 21, cousins from Yattah, a village near Hebron, West Bank.

Israeli soldiers raided the area, arresting some Palestinians, and setting in motion the demolition orders for the homes of the attackers and their families.

Reactions to the attack vary. Hamas welcomed it and some West Bank residents celebrated. In Lebanon, Hezbollah praised the “heroic” operation, and Palestinian resistance to “Zionist occupation”.

By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said Thursday it rejected violence against civilians, but stopped short of condemning the attack outright.

The Palestinian President’s Office said in a statement that Abbas "rejected repeatedly all operations that affect civilians from whichever party it comes from, and whatever the justifications."

"Achieving a just peace and creating a positive climate is what will contribute to removing and reducing the causes of tension and violence in this region."

In the wake of the attack, Israel’s new Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued orders not to return the bodies of Palestinians who die during attacks on Israeli territory to their families.

His predecessor Moshe Yalon had supported the policy of returning bodies so as not to exacerbate tensions with Palestinians.

An Israeli military spokesperson said that crossings to Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would continue to be closed for all Palestinians.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Yedidia Sermoneta expressed concern over the way the attack was carried out.

“The operation was well prepared and long in the making,” he said. “It caught Israel by surprise; no one expected something like it. For the attackers, Tel Aviv is like a capital. They wanted to show that they can strike everywhere.”

What is interesting, he noted, “is the fact that they were well dressed, with jacket and tie, like tourists or businessmen. Apparently, their hair was dyed to hide their Arab origin.”

“This means that no one can walk in Israel and feel safe. We have to remain in high alert, and watch around. This represents an escalation in tensions. They [terrorists] have raised the bar."

For Sermonenta, nothing links the attack to the Islamic state or other Mideast extremist groups. However, "Someone helped them come into Israel. They pursued a high-profile act at the start of Ramadan (the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer) to show they can strike anywhere. "

“The entire Arab population is against the attack and the violence. They can lose their job because borders are closed and freedom is restricted.”

Since last October, after ultra-Orthodox Jews engaged in provocative behaviour on the Temple Mount, incidents and clashes have multiplied in Israel and the Palestinian territories in what has come to be dubbed the ‘knife intifada’.

Since it began, 207 Palestinians, 32 Israelis, two Americans and one Sudanese and one Eritrean have been killed.

Most Palestinians were killed trying to stab or fire on passing cars or soldiers. The others were killed during demonstrations or clashes with the military.