Hundreds of police officers were today scouring the streets of Tel Aviv in a door-to-door manhunt for a gunman who opened fire on a gay youth club. A masked man opened fire on a crowd in front of a gay club in Tel Aviv, killing two people and wounding 11 others, Israeli emergency services said. A young man and a young woman were killed on the spot in the shooting late on Saturday while three people suffered serious wounds. Hospital services had mistakenly said overnight that one of the wounded was dead. The gunman, who was dressed in black, unloaded an automatic weapon on the young group of gays and lesbians at the entrance of the club, located in the heart of Tel Aviv, then ran away, witnesses said.
Thousands of people gathered in the city centre overnight to denounce the attack. "Our (gay) community won't let itself be frightened, it will stand up to those who threaten it with heads held high and with pride, we will respond to war with war," left-wing opposition Meretz party MP Nitzan Horowitz said. Police meanwhile imposed a complete blackout on details of the inquiry. The Tel Aviv police chief Shahar Ayalon ordered the closure of a nearby gay bar and urged such establishments to remain vigilant.
"We are only at the first stage of the investigation, we continue our search and we are not sure of the motive of this attack since the centre has not received any threats recently," Mr Ayalon said. Representatives of the gay community believe it was a homophobic attack. "It is not surprising that such a crime can be committed given the incitement of hatred against the homosexual community," the president of Tel Aviv's gay and lesbian community, Mai Pelem, said. referring to verbal attacks against gays from the religious community.
In the past, swastikas had been painted at the entrance to the centre in an attempt to stigmatise homosexuals. The head of Israel's gay and lesbian national association, Mike Hamel, told journalists: "In our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that the hatred against our community, which is hurting nobody, could go this far." The Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, also said he thought the attack had homophobic motives and promised the police would do everything possible to arrest the gunman, military radio reported.
If the motive is confirmed, it would be the worst homophobic attack against Israel's gay and lesbian community. In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants of the gay pride parade. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison. Tel Aviv, unlike Jerusalem, is widely seen as being a very liberal city. Despite the hostility that homosexuals, particularly men, encounter from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which considers homosexuality an "abomination," Israel repealed a ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts in 1988 and certain rights of gay or lesbian couples have since been recognised by the courts.
* AFP and AP