2 people dead, several wounded in shooting in Israeli city of Tel Aviv

An attacker opened fire into a crowded bar in central Tel Aviv on Thursday, killing at least two people and wounding several others before fleeing into a dense residential area, Israeli officials said.

Assailant remains at large hours after shooting

Emergency personnel assist a woman after a shooting in central Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

An attacker opened fire into a crowded bar in central Tel Aviv on Thursday, killing at least two people and wounding several others before fleeing into a dense residential area, Israeli officials said.

Police said there were "indications" it was a politically motivated attack — the fourth deadly assault in Israel in less than three weeks at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

The militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip praised the attack but did not claim responsibility.

Hours after the shooting, the suspected assailant remained at large. Hundreds of Israeli police officers, canine units and army special forces were conducting a massive search in central Tel Aviv, going building by building through densely populated residential neighbourhoods.

Isareli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with top security officials and ordered reinforcements into the city.

"Wherever the terrorist is — we'll get to him. And everyone who helped him indirectly or directly — will pay a price," he said in a statement.

A damaged cafe in Dizengoff Street in the centre of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Thursday. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Amichai Eshed, the Tel Aviv police commander, said the shooter opened fire at a packed bar at around 9 p.m. local time and then fled.

"Our working assumption is that he is still in the vicinity," he told reporters.

"As of right now, there are indications pointing to this being a terrorist attack, but I have to be very delicate about this, and say that we are also checking other leads."

Israel's Magen David Adom emergency service said two men around 30 years old were killed. Another seven people were wounded, three of them seriously, it said.

The shooting took place on Dizengoff Street, a central thoroughfare that has seen other attacks over the years. Most recently, an Arab citizen of Israel shot and killed two Israelis and wounded several others on the street in January 2016.

Thursday's attack took place at the start of the Israeli weekend in the popular nightlife area. Medics described scenes of panic, with dozens of people fleeing after the shots rang out.

Tensions have been high after a series of attacks by Palestinian assailants killed 11 people just ahead of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which began nearly a week ago. Last year, protests and clashes in Jerusalem during Ramadan ignited an 11-day Gaza war.

Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders have held a flurry of meetings in recent weeks, and Israel has taken a number of steps aimed at calming tensions, including issuing thousands of additional work permits for Palestinians from Gaza.

Prior to the attack, Israel had said it would allow women, children and men over 40 from the occupied West Bank to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem on Friday, the first weekly prayers of Ramadan. Tens of thousands were expected to attend.

The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and sits on a hilltop that is the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. The holy site has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israel has worked to sideline the Palestinian issue in recent years, instead focusing on forging alliances with Arab states against Iran. But the century-old conflict remains as intractable as ever.

Israeli security forces search for assailants after an attack in central Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday. The shooting took place in a crowded area with several bars and restaurants. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

Hamas spokesman Abdelatif Al-Qanou said late Thursday that the "the heroic attack in the heart of the [Israeli] entity has struck the Zionist security system and proved our people's ability to hurt the occupation."

Recent attacks

On March 29, a 27-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank shot and killed five people in the central town of Bnei Brak. Two days earlier, a shooting attack by two Islamic State (IS) sympathizers in the central city of Hadera killed two police officers.

The week before, an IS sympathizer killed four people in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba. The Hadera and Beersheba attacks were carried out by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The recent attacks appear to have been carried out by lone assailants, perhaps with the help of accomplices. No Palestinian militant group has claimed them, though Hamas has welcomed the attacks.

Israel says the conflict stems from the Palestinians' refusal to accept its existence as a Jewish state and blames attacks in part on incitement on social media. Palestinians say such attacks are the inevitable result of a nearly 55-year military occupation that shows no sign of ending.

First responders arrive at the scene of a shooting in the centre of Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)