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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Israel accuses Arafat over killing
Workers at Mt Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem prepare a grave for Rehavam Zeevi
Rehavam Zeevi will be buried in Jerusalem on Thursday
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the assassination of far-right cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was killed on Wednesday.

In a first retaliatory step, Israel has banned Mr Arafat from using the international airport in Gaza.

We will wage a war without mercy against the terrorists - only criminal terrorists could dream of assassinating elected members of a democratic state

Ariel Sharon
But aides to Mr Arafat have denied that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the death of the Israeli hardliner, and the US has backed their point of view.

In apparently related incident, a suicide bomber blew himself up near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, injuring two Israeli soldiers.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said it carried out both the killing of Zeevi and the suicide bombing near kibbutz Nahal Oz.

It is the first time the secular leftist PFLP has said it carried out a suicide bombing. The technique is more commonly associated with militant Islamic groups.

Memorial session

Israel's inner security cabinet met on Wednesday night to discuss further responses amid intense international diplomatic pressure to show restraint.

Mr Sharon earlier told a special memorial session of parliament: "I hold Arafat fully responsible, as he set the terrorism in motion, even though he knew very well what the consequences would be."

Aides to Mr Arafat have denied responsibility for the killing and say the Palestinian leader has ordered the arrest of the people who carried it out.

Rehavam Zeevi
Zeevi had turned down extra security measures
Separately, Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet - which seldom makes public statements - has said it will "work night and day to find the murderers of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi and bring them to justice".

US President George W Bush has condemned the killing "in the strongest terms", White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"This despicable act is further evidence of the need to fight terrorism," Mr Fleischer said in a statement released during a stop in California as Mr Bush headed to China for a summit.

An unnamed senior US official told Reuters that the killing must not be allowed to derail the shaky Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire agreed on 26 September.

The official added that it was "clear" that Zeevi killing had been "carried out in defiance of Palestinian leaders, who have called for a ceasefire".

Hotel shooting

Zeevi, a 75-year-old former general, was the head of the right-wing National Union Party and resigned from the government on Monday in protest at Israel's military pull-out from Hebron.

Jerusalem Hyatt Hotel
The hotel has been sealed off as police investigate
He was shot in a Jerusalem hotel on the day that his resignation from cabinet was due to come into effect.

The PFLP said it carried out the assassination in revenge for the killing of its leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, by Israeli forces in August.

Israel Radio reported that Mr Arafat phoned Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to express his condolences and promised to make every effort to find the killers.

No bodyguards

Zeevi had been having breakfast in the dining-room of Jerusalem's Hyatt hotel with his wife before he made his way up to their room on the eighth floor, police said.

Once there he was approached by two gunmen who shot him at close range, including twice in the head.

Zeevi had no bodyguards with him at the time and the gunmen were able to escape.

When his wife followed him up to their room 10 minutes later she found him lying in a critical condition in front of the door, police said.

An American tourist, David Hocking, who was also staying in the hotel, ran into the corridor after hearing Zeevi's wife screaming.

Mr Hocking said that he had not heard any shots fired and the police are investigating whether a silencer was used.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Peace efforts are in danger"
Middle East Analyst, Hegai Segal
says both sides are in a position where they cannot negotiate a deal
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"It is a deeply depressing situation"
See also:

17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Obituary: Rehavam Zeevi
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Profile: PFLP
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Echoes of Lebanon for Israel
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's 'new era'
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel may accept Palestinian state
27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
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