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Page last updated at 06:37 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 07:37 UK

Police hunt killer of Israel gays

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Activist Yaniv Weizman: 'It's a big shock in Tel Aviv, one of the most liberal and free cities'

Israeli police are searching for a gunman who killed two people and wounded at least 10 at a gay support centre in the city of Tel Aviv.

Gay leaders say it is Israel's worst hate crime against the community.

Most of the victims were gay teenagers who were meeting at the centre on Nachmani street when the gunman entered and started firing indiscriminately.

Police have ordered the temporary closure of the city's gay clubs and are releasing few details of the search.

That's actually the surprising issue, there is not at all any homophobic activity in Tel Aviv
Yaron Arad
Tel Aviv hotel worker

Hundreds of police are reported to be involved in a door-to-door hunt for the masked, black-clad gunman, who witnesses said fired in all directions with a handgun.

At one point, three deaths were being reported but later accounts spoke only of two fatalities - that of a young man and a young woman.

The shootings took place at the headquarters of the local lesbian and gay rights association.

Shock

Anon Shabtie, who works at the Evita gay bar close to the centre, told the BBC that the gunman had attacked a place which helped young gay people:

EYEWITNESS
Yaniv Weisman, speaking in Tel Aviv after the attack
Yaniv Weizman, head of Israel's youth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association

We still don't know who is behind this attack but someone that knew this place - because it's not a place you can see outside - knew exactly where is the place, got in, and just shot everyone there.

It's a horrible, horrible shock for the gay community, and the Tel Aviv municipality. Tel Aviv is supposed to be a very safe city.

There is a big anger and if we will know that behind this action it's a religious movement, we will punish the people behind it, and the gay community here is very strong, and there will be a reaction from the gay community and the people in the government will be the first one to give us answers.

"We have a centre for people who want to go out of the closet or get support from the community and they come there every day and there are people supporting them.

"And unfortunately on Saturday evening there are teenagers coming there and they were like I don't know many guys sitting there with a guy who help them.

"And then the guy came with a helmet on his head and he was shooting them without any reason."

Hundreds of lesbian and gay Israelis held a rally and lit candles in Tel Aviv in protest at the shooting.

One woman said she was "terrified, shocked, surprised, amazed" by the attack "because it was so unexpected".

Yaron Arad, who works at a nearby hotel, said the gay community was part of the city.

"We know that Tel Aviv has a very lively gay community with plenty of activities going around," he told the BBC.

"That's actually the surprising issue, there is not at all any homophobic activity in Tel Aviv.

"Jerusalem does not naturally accept the gay community but here in Tel Aviv it's different, totally different story. A lot of parties, a lot of gay people having fun here. That's why it's so shocking what's happened here tonight."

'Inside knowledge'

Annual gay pride marches are often met with violent protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

A rally was held in support of the city's gay community after the attack

The head of Israel's youth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, Yaniv Weisman, told the BBC the gunman must have intended to attack the centre "because it's not a place you can see outside".

He said the gay community was demanding to know why it had been targeted.

"The gay community in Israel, in Tel Aviv, today got a message, a very strong message, a red light, that Israel, Tel Aviv, no longer a safe place to no one," he said.

"And if someone can give himself the option just to say like hate and to say things against the gay community, today he can see the pictures and to see what these words can lead to."

Tel Aviv has in the past been targeted in attacks by Palestinian militants but there was no suggestion that Saturday's attack had a political motive.

A police spokesman described the attack as "criminal rather than nationalistic".


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