- crime - homosexuality - Israel
AFP - Israeli police were hunting on Sunday for a masked man who opened fire at a gay youth club in Tel Aviv, killing two people in an attack that struck fear among the liberal city's homosexual community.
The black-clad gunman used a pistol to target the group of young gays and lesbians at the entrance to the community centre in the heart of Israel's commercial capital late on Saturday and then fled, police and witnesses said.
A teenage girl and a man in his 20s were killed on the spot and 15 people were wounded, three seriously, police said, adding that a manhunt has been launched for the assailant.
It was the worst attack against country's gay and lesbian community.
"All indications point that this was a criminal incident and not a terror attack, which was most likely deliberately directed against the gay and lesbian community," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
Thousands of people gathered in the centre of the Mediterranean seaside city overnight to protest against the attack on the Bar Noar ("Youth Bar"), some waving rainbow banners and lighting candles for the victims.
"Our 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," said the left-wing opposition Meretz party's Nitzan Horowitz, the only openly gay MP.
The victims were identified as Liz Tarbishi, 17 and Nir Katz, 26.
"At about 10:40 pm someone came over, all dressed in black and wearing a black mask," one of the injured, Or Gil, told the Haaretz newspaper.
"I thought it was a joke at first, but he immediately opened fire. People took cover under the bed and tables, but there were no screams. I hid under a table with someone else. It's a small place; there's just one terrace. Once you're inside, there's nowhere to run."
Police investigators were seen sifting through evidence at the scene while bloodied victims were taken by stretcher into ambulances.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the "shocking murder" and called on the police to do everything to bring the gunman to justice.
"I want to say to the citizens of Israel -- we are a democratic and tolerant country and we must respect every person as he is," he said.
Tel Aviv police chief Shahar Ayalon ordered the closure of a nearby gay bar and urged such establishments to remain vigilant.
Gays in Israel, particularly men, often encounter hostility from ultra-Orthodox Jews who consider homosexuality an "abomination."
"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, told reporters.
In the past, swastikas have been daubed at the entrance to the gay and lesbian community centre in an attempt to stigmatise homosexuals.
"In our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that the hatred against our community, which is hurting nobody, could go this far," the head of Israel's gay and lesbian national association, Mike Hamel, told journalists.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch also said he believed the attack had homophobic motives and promised the police would do everything possible to arrest the gunman.
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai insisted the attack would not change the city as a bastion of "tolerance and openness."
"We will continue to offer the gay community a warm house in our city and fight for everyone's right to live according to his faith and beliefs," he said.
In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants of a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Gays and lesbians enjoy freedom in Israel, serving openly in the military, and Tel Aviv holds an annual gay pride parade.
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.