Hard-line Israeli Cabinet Minister killed

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The Independent Online

A controversial right–wing Israeli minister was assasinated in Jerusalem today, shot three times in the head and neck in a killing likely to re-ignite violence across the Holy Land.

Rechavam Zeevi, 75, who advocated the removal of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was killed by one or more gunmen lurking in a hotel hallway.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction, said the shooting was revenge for the killing of its leader, Mustafa Zibri, who died in August in a targeted Israeli rocket attack. Israel has said Zibri, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was involved in bombing attacks on Israelis.

Israel's 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 26 September truce deal that had appeared to be taking hold in many areas.

The killing came at a critical political juncture, with first cracks showing in Sharon's coalition over US-led efforts to restart Mideast peace talks. 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, who was Tourism Minister, had announced on 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 announced Wednesday that he was withdrawing the resignation.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's government said in a statement that it condemned the killing and remained committed to a truce with Israel. UN envoy Terje Larsen said Arafat told him he had ordered the arrests of the 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.

A spokesman for Tony Blair said the killing "refocuses the need to get the peace process moving again".

Zeevi 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.