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Israel's tourism minister killed in shooting claimed by Palestinian militants
By LAURIE COPANS, The Associated Press
10/17/01 11:14 AM
JERUSALEM (AP) -- One or more gunmen, lurking in a hotel hallway, shot and killed an Israeli Cabinet minister Wednesday with three bullets to the head and neck. A radical Palestinian faction said it carried out the assassination to avenge the killing of its leader by Israel two months ago.
The killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, 75, who advocated the ouster of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was the first ever assassination of a serving Cabinet minister by Palestinians.
The attack threatened to re-ignite the cycle of violence that has wracked the Holy Land for the last year and was expected to trigger a sweeping Israeli retaliation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would wage a "war to the finish against the terrorist, their helpers and those who sent them."
In a first response, Israel reimposed some travel restrictions in the West Bank it had lifted earlier this week as part of a Sept. 26 truce deal that had appeared to be taking hold in many areas.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's government said in a statement that it condemned the killing and remained committed to a truce with Israel. Palestinian security officials said Arafat has ordered the arrests of the suspected assailants.
The Palestinian Authority said it had warned in the past against the dangers of assassination, suggesting Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian militants accused of attacks on Israelis could lead to escalation. In the past year of fighting, Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinians, including several bystanders, in such attacks.
The highest-ranking target so far has been Mustafa Zibri, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was killed in a targeted Israeli rocket attack Aug. 27 while sitting in his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The PFLP on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the killing of Zeevi, saying it came as revenge for the death of its leader, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa. "Sharon has to know that Palestinian blood is not cheap," the PFLP said in a leaflet sent to news agencies.
The faction, which the United States includes on its list of terrorist groups, released a video showing three masked gunmen standing next to a large poster of Zibri. Reading a statement, one of the gunmen said, "Rehavam Zeevi will only be the first" and suggested that two more killings would follow.
Sharon said earlier this week that he would not abandon the targeted killings, despite the truce and sharp U.S. condemnation of the practice. Three members of the militant Hamas group were killed this week, and Israe claimed the first, saying the target had planned an attack at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 22. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer demanded that Arafat extradite the leaders of the PFLP to Israel. "In this situation, one man is responsible, and that is Arafat because of his soft hand on terror," Ben-Eliezer said.
Zeevi's killing came at a critical political juncture, with first cracks showing in Sharon's coalition over U.S.-led efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In a speech Wednesday, Sharon outlined his negotiating positions, saying he was willing to accept a Palestinian state but would dictate strict limitations that Palestinians have already rejected. Zeevi had announced Monday that his National Union faction was leaving the government because Sharon was too soft on the Palestinians. A fellow leader of the National Union withdrew the resignation Wednesday. Zeevi, who lives in Ramat-Hasharon, a Tel Aviv suburb, was staying with his wife at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday. At about 7 a.m., he was returning from the hotel restaurant to the eighth floor when he was attacked outside his room, police said. He was shot three times in the head and face.
There was speculation the assailants used a silencer, and witnesses said they heard muffled sounds. Zeevi's wife, Yael, found him in the hallway, lying on his back in a pool of blood, witnesses said. A fellow hotel guest, Rev. David Hocking, said he rushed into the hall after hearing Mrs. Zeevi's screams. "I saw her kneeling over him ... The blood was everywhere," said Hocking, who is leading a Christian tour group from Orange County, Calif.
Zeevi had been a target of many verbal threats and was entitled to a bodyguard. However, he rejected protection as a matter of principle, fellow ministers said. While parliament was in session, Zeevi stayed at the Hyatt Hotel in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem to underscore Israel's claim to all of the disputed city. Zeevi resisted suggestions to change his hotel room from time to time, fellow ministers said.
In a Lebanese refugee camp, PFLP supporters cheered, danced and distributed sweets to celebrate the killing.
Zeevi served from 1974 to 1977 as adviser to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the war against terrorism. He opposed Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and in 1988 founded the far-right Moledet Party. He sparked controversy in July for referring to Palestinians working and living illegally in Israel as "lice" and a "cancer." He was widely known by the incongruous nickname "Gandhi," acquired because his youthful thinness reminded people of the pacifist Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press.
-- Swissrose (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 17, 2001
Its not good for tourism when the tourism minister gets knocked off.
-- Guy Daley (email@example.com), October 17, 2001.
Where were his body guards?
-- Steve McClendon (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 19, 2001.