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Tel Aviv shooter killed in gun battle in northern Israel

Jan. 8, 2016 5:33 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 10, 2016 12:10 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli police on Friday shot dead Nashat Melhem, suspected of carrying out a deadly shooting in Tel Aviv last week, in a gun battle in his hometown of Arara in northern Israel.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement that Israeli police had tracked Melhem down in a building in Arara "using all legally available resources and methods."

She said that he left the building "shooting at forces, who responded by opening fire, resulting in his death at the scene." She added that no Israeli forces were injured during gunfire exchange.

Israeli's Channel 2 reported that the building Melhem took refuge in was a mosque in Arara.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan thanked Israel's security forces for their participation in the operation, as well as the Israeli public for showing "alertness, patience, and understanding of the complexity of police operations."

Melhem is believed to have been responsible for a shooting in Tel Aviv on Jan. 1 that killed two Israelis and injured seven. He fled the scene after the attack, allegedly killing a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship during his escape, and sparked a massive manhunt across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israeli security measures during the search impacted thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel, with many in the northern Israeli district of Wadi Ara complaining of Israeli conduct at checkpoints.

A member of the large Melhem family was quoted by Israeli news site Ynet as saying that they had been targeted by security forces. "This morning I walked through the police checkpoint and they started asking me questions as though I were hiding the gunman. My children were very scared. After they finished checking us, they started crying," they said.

"We are going through difficult and complicated days. I hope the gunman turns himself in, because he's the only one who can save us from the treatment we are getting."

'Incitement' against Palestinians

Earlier on Friday, a large number of Israeli police were deployed across Tel Aviv, prompting Israeli media reports of an "immediate terror attack alert," although police later issued a statement denying the reports and saying the police deployment was intended only to improve "preparedness."

Jafar Farah, the director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Advocacy Center For Arab Citizens In Israel, told Ma'an that his organization rejected "efforts to blame the Arab community" for the killings.

He pointed out that one of the victims of the Jan. 1 shooting was also a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. "The institutions should be there to protect both Arabs and Jews," he said.

"The government wants to incite Jews against us. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu's policy to manage the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict is to show the Jewish and international communities that the issue is not the occupation, but a problem between Jews and Arabs."

Farah said there was a long history of frustration among Palestinian citizens of Israel due to unchecked violence by Israeli security forces. He added that Mossawa acted as a legal representative for the Melhem family when Nashat Melhem's cousin was killed by police in 2006.

"We wanted to ensure that the police officer who killed him was held accountable," he said. "Unfortunately, police intervention in the case led to the failure of the case in court."

Farah told Ma'an that Mossawa had received a number of calls since the Jan. 1 attacks regarding aggressive behavior from Israeli security forces against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

"But we know that in these circumstances, there is no authority willing to intervene in the media to do anything other than support the (crackdown)," Farah said. "The atmosphere right now is very heavy and racist, there is a lot of incitement."
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