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Gunman kills 2 at Tel Aviv club for gay youths

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - A gunman sprayed automatic fire at an Israeli club for gay teenagers on Saturday, killing two people and wounding at least eight, police and witnesses said.

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The shooting spree in central Tel Aviv set off a citywide security clampdown, reviving memories of Palestinian attacks that have ebbed in recent years. But a police spokesman said that the incident was “criminal, rather than nationalistic.”

Citing witnesses, Israeli television said a black-clad, masked gunman stormed into the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association building and opened fire in a basement room where teenage homosexuals were holding a weekly support group.

Most of the casualties were minors, the police spokesman said, adding that the assailant was believed to have used an automatic weapon such as an M-16 rifle.

“This is an unprecedented event for Israel and for the community,” association director May Pamel told Channel 10 TV.

“We have joined the roster of ‘civilized’ countries where hatred is the standard.”

Coastal, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv has a bustling gay scene, but open homosexuality is less welcome in conservative areas of the Jewish state. Annual gay pride parades in Jerusalem meet with often violent protests from ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Tel Aviv police chief Shachar Ayalon stopped short of branding the shooting a hate crime remarks to reporters.

But one protester at the scene held up a placard blaming a powerful religious Jewish political party whose members have regularly inveighed against gays.

Israeli media said police had warned other gay clubs in Tel Aviv to close for fear of a follow-up attack.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy