Tel Aviv Shooter’s Father, Brother Arrested as Police Struggle to Close Case

YERUSHALAYIM -
An updated photo of Meshet Melhem (Police spokesperson)
An updated photo of Meshet Melhem. (Police Spokesperson)

Police overnight arrested the father of Meshet Melhem, the 29-year-old shooter who killed two Jews and an Arab taxi driver last Friday in Tel Aviv. Melhem’s father, Shin Bet officials believe, has “solid information” as to the whereabouts of his son, as the search for the killer enters its fifth day.

So far, Melhem’s two brothers have been arrested, as have five other relatives. All are residents of the northern Israeli Arab town of Ar’ara. Police stopped short of calling the arrests part of a “conspiracy,” although a police source said that the case was looking “more and more like a well-planned operation, very likely conducted at the behest of an international terrorist organization.” Police added that more arrests are expected.

The search is still on for Melhem, focusing on the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv. Police have been combing apartments, parks, gardens, storage sheds, and every other conceivable hiding place. It turns out that Melhem had been employed as a delivery driver for a fruit and vegetable store in Ramat Aviv, the city’s suburban-style northern neighborhood, so he is believed to know the area well. However, the store has been closed for a year, and residents and storekeepers in the area who recognized Melhem say they have not seen him in the area since it closed.

The two Israelis who were killed in the attack were named as Alon Bakal, 26, who was the manager of the Simta café, which Melhem apparently targeted in his attack, and Shimon Ruimi, 30, from Ofakim. Six others are still in local hospitals being treated for their wounds. According to police, Melhem had murdered a third individual earlier Friday – an Israeli Arab cab driver.

Speaking on Israel Radio, a police official said that the fact that the search was centering on Ramat Aviv was not necessarily a signal that police believed that he was definitely hiding in the area, but in order to close any holes in the investigation. Police said Sunday that Melhem’s cell phone had been found on a street in Ramat Aviv, indicating that he had gone north after the attack. But searches are taking place in other parts of the city, as well as outside Tel Aviv, the official said.