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Israeli official labels Tel Aviv shooter 'terrorist,' 5 jailed

Jan. 10, 2016 12:10 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 10, 2016 6:48 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities have officially labelled a deadly Tel Aviv shooting carried out earlier this month a “terror attack,” Israel’s Public Security Ministry said Saturday.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Gilad Erdan referred to the suspected shooter, Nashat Melhem, as a “terrorist” acting out of “nationalistic motives.”

Israel’s Defense Ministry meanwhile recognized three Israelis killed in the shooting as “victims of terror,” Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Melhem was suspected of carrying out a shooting attack that killed two Israelis and injured 7 on Jan. 1. A third Israeli -- reportedly a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship -- was killed as Melhem fled the scene before going into hiding.

Melhem was shot dead in a gun battle with Israeli forces days later in his hometown of Arara.

Several were arrested during the search for Melhem and an Israeli court on Saturday extended the detention of five Palestinians suspected of involvement with the shooting attack, according to Haaretz. The newspaper added that Melhem's father, who had been held in Israeli police custody for five days, and his brother, were released.

A court in Haifa accepted a police request for the extended arrest of the five, all of whom are suspected for membership in an illegal organization and conspiracy to commit a crime and aiding a crime, the daily said.

The Defense Ministry’s labeling of the Tel Aviv attack as a “terrorist” incident came shortly after the Hamas movement on Friday mourned the death of Melhem.

A spokesman for the Hamas movement, Husam Badran, said in a statement following his death that Melhem was a “hero.”

"Nashaat is an example of the free Palestinian who sacrifices himself in defense of his own people and in support of their cause," Badran said.

"The blood of the martyrs will remain a beacon for the [Palestinian] generations who will tread the same path," he added.

Details have yet to be released regarding Melhem’s political affiliation and exact motives for the attack. Israeli police and intelligence forces meanwhile have reportedly targeted Palestinian communities in northern Israel since the Jan. 1. attack.

Jafar Farah, the director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Advocacy Center For Arab Citizens In Israel, told Ma’an on Friday that his organization had received a number of calls since the attack 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 at the time. "The atmosphere right now is very heavy and racist, there is a lot of incitement."

Critics slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel during the search for Melhem, and Haaretz reported that the PM may revoke a plan intended to advance minorities in Israel.

The five-year $2.5 billion plan was approved by Israel’s cabinet last week and would fund employment and social development for Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as other minorities.
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