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Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi Assasinated - 2001-10-17

Israel's tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi, has died in the hospital after being shot by gunmen at a hotel in East Jerusalem. A radical Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Israeli police say Mr. Zeevi was shot three times in the head and throat at close range at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem.

Police say Mr. Zeevi's wife found him in critical condition in the corridor outside his room.

The tourism minister was rushed to a local hospital where he died, despite efforts to revive him.

A tourist staying at the Hyatt hotel described the scene immediately after the shooting. "All I heard was, like something fell, and I presumed it was in somebody's room next door. I didn't really think of it as a shot. What drew me to my door to try to do something was the yells and screaming of his wife. When I opened the door, then I saw her kneeling over him. He obviously had been shot; blood was everywhere," the tourist said.

The radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility.

The group says the shooting was in revenge for the targeted killing last August of their leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, by the Israeli military.

The army said Mr. Mustafa was involved in planning bombing attacks against Israelis.

The Palestinians called his death an "assassination."

The Palestinian Authority condemned Mr. Zeevi's death. The Reuters news agency quotes Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying the Palestinians "reject all forms of political assassinations."

Mr. Zeevi, the leader of the right-wing National Union faction in the Israeli parliament, announced Monday he was resigning from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government to protest a decision to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank.

The 75-year-old tourism minister was known for his hard-line positions against the Palestinians, having called for their expulsion from Israel.

He caused controversy earlier this year when he called Palestinians working and living illegally in Israel "lice" and a "cancer."

Mr. Zeevi, who is survived by his wife and five children, was a retired army general, who fought in three wars for Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet to discuss the situation.