israel shooting tel aviv.jpg
Photograph: EPA/DANIEL BER ON

The Israeli police published the identity of an Arab-Israeli gunman who is believed to have fired into a busy bar in central Tel Aviv, killing two people and wounding seven, and asked the public for help in locating him.

The suspect is Nashat Melhem, aged around 31, an Israeli citizen from the northern Arab town of Ar'ara, south-east of Haifa near the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Over 24 hours after the shooting along Tel Aviv's main avenue on a packed Friday afternoon, the shooter remained at large, with thousands of police and special commandos searching in the city and beyond.

"The Israel Police calls on the public to remain alert and not to hesitate to report immediately about any suspicious scenario or person," it said in a statement.

Staff had been added to the police telephone line to allow a quick response to any calls, it added.  

Israelis flocked to the site of the shooting in Dizengoff Street and lit candles on Saturday.

They included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who welcomed the suspected gunman's family's condemnation of the shooting and called for co-existence between Israel's Jewish majority and Arab minority. 

Cameras inside a store adjacent to the bar recorded a man dressed in black buying snacks. He then pulled a gun from his backpack, exited the health store and could be seen opening fire in the direction of the bar.

Another video shot inside the bar showed patrons scrambling for cover amid the hail of bullets.

The shooting lasted only several minutes. Two men were killed and some seven were injured, two of whom remained in hospital in serious condition Saturday.

Residents expressed outrage at the shooting, and the alleged shooter's family distanced itself from the incident.

The suspect was sentenced in the past to five years in jail for trying to snatch the weapon of a soldier as he sought to avenge the killing of a cousin by an Israeli police officer during a car-theft-related house raid, Israel Radio said.

The suspect's father contacted authorities after he received a telephone call from someone telling him to check whether his licensed firearm was missing, and after seeing news reports including closed circuit television footage of the shooter roaming around the healthfood store.

"I heard my son was in Tel Aviv and did what he did," the father, who identified himself as Mohammed Ali Melhem, told reporters outside his home Saturday, speaking in Arabic-accented, but fluent Hebrew.

"I didn't educate him in this way. I am sorry for what he did. When I heard about the incident, I personally, on my own initiative, went to the station and assisted all the security forces in every direction," he said, wishing a full recovery to the injured and expressing sorrow for those who had lost loved ones.

It was not clear whether the shooter was a follower of a radical Islamist ideology, or whether he had other motives. 

A lawyer and distant relative told reporters he believed his former client was emotionally unstable.

Police would not comment on reports that the gunman's bag was found with a copy of the Koran inside.

Tel Aviv's Magistrates Court imposed a seven-day gag order on the investigation, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, as well as on the investigation into the murder of a taxi driver, who was found dying about an hour after the shooting in north Tel Aviv's coastal sand dunes.

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