Hunt continues for Tel Aviv attack suspect, who suffers from mental problems
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israeli police continue their search for Nasha'at Melhem, 31, an Arab-Israeli from northern Israel, suspected of killing two people and injuring seven in a shooting on 1 January in a bar in Tel Aviv. Thousands of people, including high-ranking government officials, attended the victims’ funerals yesterday.
So far, police have failed to find the suspect but investigators are convinced he is still in Tel Aviv, but units specialising in locating and neutralising perpetrators were combing the city.
Israeli authorities went house-to-house on Saturday in various sections of Tel Aviv. Some unconfirmed reports suggest he might have left Israel to enter the territories in the West Bank
"All of our emphasis at this moment in time is finding that suspect and all the different organizations – security organisations here in Israel – are working together to find that man," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Israeli authorities believe Melhem is the gunman who sprayed bullets from an automatic weapon near the Hasimta pub on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, on 1 January, killing two and injuring at least seven before fleeing.
More than 24 hours after the shooter was last seen, police continued to press the urgent search because the shooter, who fired off more than 15 rounds in "a number of different directions”, remains a public security threat.
So far, the authorities have indicated they were only hunting for a single suspect; however, police are still trying to determine whether the shooter was "a murderer who acted alone" in a criminal act or act of terror, authorities said.
Some Israeli media have spoken to the relatives of the alleged attacker, including his father and an uncle. The latter said that his nephew had psychological problems and had been previously sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to steal an Israeli soldier's weapon.
The father, who recognised him from CCTV footage, said he was deeply sorry for what happened. “I wish all the injured a speedy recovery. And I share the pain over this attack. Whether Arab or Israeli, I am sorry for everyone involved,” he told reporters outside the family home.
The father, who works as a volunteer for Israeli police, discovered after the attack that a weapon he kept in a safe at home was missing, the uncle said. It was not immediately known whether that was the weapon used in the attack. However, the shooter's brother is being held on suspicion of being an aid in the murder.
Local CCTV cameras show the young man entering a grocery store, pulling out a weapon, and starting to shoot into a nearby bar. He then turned towards a business and fired from a distance of about 150 metres, before fleeing. His motives are still unknown.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have indicted two Jewish suspects in connection with the 31 July arson attack in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, against the house of a Palestinian family in which three people died, including a 16-month old baby.
Sa’ad and Riham Dawabshe and their infant son Ali were burnt alive. A second son, four-year-old Ahmad, survived the attack.
Six months since the attack, Israeli prosecutors charged two people connected with Jewish rightwing groups. Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 21-year-old man from Jerusalem, was indicted, along with a 17-year-old youth from the northern West Bank who was not named because he is a minor.
Israeli police and Shin Bet have detained several other people in connection with the crime, but it was unclear on Sunday whether they were still in custody or had been released.
According to the indictment, the Duma attack was carried out in retaliation for the fatal drive-by shooting near a West Bank settlement that killed Malachai Rosenfeld, a Jewish Israeli man, earlier in July.
The latest events come as tensions continue to rise in Israel and Palestine. An Israeli civilian was shot and wounded in Jerusalem and an Israeli soldier was stabbed and wounded in Hebron.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the spate of attacks – the knife (or third) intifada – a "wave of terror."
Some 20 Israelis have died since October, whilst Israeli forces killed more than 80 Palestinians in the same period, including protesters who died in clashes, as well as attacks.
Nearly 1.75 million of Israel's 8.4 million citizens are Arab.