HUNDREDS of police officers were scouring the streets of Tel Aviv today in a door-to-door manhunt for a gunman who opened fire on a gay youth club.

A masked man entered a club for gay teens late yesterday, pulled out a pistol and shot in all directions, killing two and injuring 11, four seriously, police said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the man then holstered his pistol and fled the scene by foot to the busy streets of Tel Aviv.

Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s only openly gay lawmaker, said the attack had all the symptoms of a “hate crime.”

“This is the worst attack ever against the gay community in Israel,” he said. “This act was a blind attack against innocent youths, and I expect the authorities to exercise all means in apprehending the shooter.”

Gays and lesbians enjoy great freedom and liberties in Israel. Soldiers serve openly in the military, and openly gay musicians and actors are among the most popular in the country.

Tel Aviv in particular is one of the more liberal cities in the world – it holds a festive annual gay parade, rainbow flags are often seen waved from apartment windows and the there is even a city-sponsored open house for the community.

However, ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders often incite against the community. In conservative Jerusalem, clashes have been frequent between religious and gay activists. In 2005, for instance, an ultra-Orthodox protester stabbed three marchers at a Jerusalem gay parade.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a frequent critic of gays in Israel, issued a statement condemning yesterday’s attack.

The attack sparked other swift political reactions. The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, pledged that Tel Aviv would continue to maintain its pluralistic nature.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni expressed shock and sorrow from the attack.

“The difficult event should awaken society to rid itself from prejudice,” Livni said. “We must accept and recognize the right of every person to live safely and with respect.”

Thousands took to the street in an impromptu march after yesterday night’s attack to mourn for the victims and call for tolerance.

The covers of today’s newspapers all featured photos of the bloodstained floors of the youth club and headlines such as “Massacre of the Proud Youth” and “Terror Against the Proud Community.” Gay celebrities also penned guest columns.

The names of the victims have yet to be released, but they were identified as a 17-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man.