Israel to Palestinians: Hand over assassins
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel early Thursday demanded the Palestinian Authority immediately hand over the "murderers and their senders" responsible for the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet member the day before.
"If the Palestinian Authority does not comply with this demand, Israel will see the Palestinian Authority as an entity that supports terror," said Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar after a late-night Cabinet meeting.
Saar also said Israeli "self-defense actions will continue."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the meeting after the assassination of Rechavam Zeevi, the right-wing Cabinet minister who died Wednesday after being shot multiple times at an East Jerusalem hotel. The session began at 9 p.m. and lasted more than three hours.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the killing.
CNN learned security forces for the Palestinian Authority had arrested two members of the PFLP leadership -- Rabah Mihanna, a member of the group's politburo, and Younis Al-Jaru, a member of its central committee.
It was not immediately clear whether the arrests came before or after the Israeli demands.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat ordered his security forces to find and arrest the killers of Zeevi.
Terje Larsen, the U.N. representative in the Middle East, said after talking with Arafat that he expected multiple arrests, possibly within hours. A PFLP spokesman, Ali Jaradat, was questioned and released at one point Wednesday.
In addition to the assassination, the PFLP claimed responsibility for a bombing the Israeli Army said killed a suicide bomber and lightly wounded two Israeli soldiers on patrol near a kibbutz close to Gaza.
Shortly after the killing, the Israeli government announced it was suspending contact with the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres urged Arafat to "take hold" of the situation, warning all the recent movement toward resuming peace talks could be lost if he doesn't.
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the killing. Arafat told Larsen he considered the assassination "extremely damaging to the Palestinian cause."
Larsen said he told Arafat "words are not enough. It has to be followed by deeds."
In Washington, the Bush administration issued a similar comment.
"This statement is appropriate, but words are not enough," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
"It is time for the Palestinian Authority to take vigorous action against terrorists. The Palestinian Authority must immediately find and bring to justice those who committed this murder as well as those who would do harm to efforts to restore an atmosphere of calm and security for Israelis and Palestinians."
Larsen said Arafat knows he has to act quickly. "The test of the authority exercised on the ground by the Palestinian Authority is now and we will have to judge what is happening on the ground," Larsen said.
Sharon held Arafat responsible for the killing and said it marks a major change in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
"The situation is different today, and will not again be like it was yesterday," said Sharon before the cabinet meeting.
Earlier, Jaradat told CNN that Zeevi was killed in retaliation for the killing of PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa.
Ali Mustafa died in late August after Israeli rockets hit his West Bank office. The group had promised revenge for its leader's death.
Mihanna, the PFLP popolitburoember, told CNN before he was arrested that Zeevi, 75, was hit because of his extreme ideas.
Sharon called his Security Cabinet into session. Israel immediately suspended reforms the government was taking to ease the lives of Palestinians and erected roadblocks at Ramallah.
Zeevi was eating breakfast with his wife at the hotel when he went back to his room. He was later found wounded in the hallway outside the room.
No gunshots were heard at the hotel. Police believe a silencer may have been used. He was shot three times in the head and neck, hospital sources and police told CNN.
Zeevi, who was Israel's tourism minister, and other members of the National Union, a bloc of two small parties, said Monday they were leaving Sharon's government because they were opposed to the easing of tough security restrictions on the movements of Palestinians.
Zeevi was a retired army general who fought in Israel's 1948 war of independence, the 1956 Sinai campaign, and the 1967 Middle East war.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the leaders of the Palestinian Authority "need to take action against those who have carried this out in defiance of Palestinian leaders who have called for peace."
The official reiterated that the Israelis and Palestinians need to "focus" on the positive developments over past few days -- Israel's withdrawal from some West Bank neighborhoods and its easing of roadblocks around Ramallah, and Arafat's deployment of Palestinian police to crack down on violent anti-American protesters.
"It would only give the terrorists a victory if the positive movement we have seen becomes another victim," the senior official said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to both Sharon and Arafat Wednesday from Shanghai, China, where he is attending the APEC summit, on the need to continue to take steps to reduce the violence.
"The terrorists must not be allowed to declare victory," said Fleischer.
Israelis and Palestinians "should seize the moment to put an end to violence," he said, and implement the plans put forward by CIA Director George Tenet and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.
"The entire world will support them in their efforts," Fleischer said.
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