Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi was assassinated this morning by one or two assailants at the entrance to his hotel room at the Jerusalem Hyatt. Three shots were fired at him at 7:00 AM, at point-blank range.
Zeevi was fatally wounded and pronounced dead three hours later. Israel Police believe the assailants escaped immediately, before the arrival of security forces. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took responsibility for the assassination.
Zeevi finished eating breakfast with his wife Yael in the hotel dining room this morning, and went up to his room on the eighth floor, the VIP floor used on a regular basis by ministers, members of Knesset, and senior public figures.
One or two assailants accosted him near his room, #816, firing at his head and neck from point-blank range. Zeevi collapsed, seriously wounded. His wife, Yael, who arrived seconds later and found him bleeding, called the police and Magen David Adom ambulance service.
Zeevi was evacuated in an intensive care ambulance to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. He was placed in the hospital trauma ward in very serious condition and later transferred to the intensive care ward, where senior specialists tried to stabilize his condition. Hotel witnesses described his injuries as extremely serious. He was pronounced dead at 10:00 AM.
Heavy Jerusalem police forces, led by district commander Major General Mickey Levy, cordoned off the hotel, including its entrances and exits. Special police force units began to check the hotel and the parking lot.
The police and the General Security Service (GSS) interrogated all the hotel's guests and staff, but no-one had witnessed or heard the shooting. The hotel's security officers also said they had heard nothing and had not noticed anyone suspicious escaping the hotel following the assassination.
Zeevi often carried a gun on him, but was unarmed at the time. Israel Police chief, Com. Shlomo Aharonishky said, "The incident is extremely grave. We don't yet know whether it was a cell of one or two assailants, exactly which weapons were used, or the reason for the assassination."
The PFLP, which took responsibility for the assassination, is considered the most influential group in the northern Jerusalem area. In recent months, the GSS and the police have exposed two PFLP cells, one of which planned a shooting incident involving Jews, using a silencer.
The investigation has raised harsh questions concerning the measures used to protect Zeevi and the hotel. Levy confirmed that Zeevi did not have a bodyguard when the assassination took place. The GSS, which is responsible for government ministers' safety, has a special unit for the protection of public figures.
Levy said, “We're not aware of any warnings or plans to harm members of Knesset or ministers.” Levy stressed that responsibility for protecting government officials lay exclusively with the GSS and refused to comment on the apparent security failure.
The GSS had boosted its protection of government ministers, due to fears that Palestinian organizations were planning to harm them. Zeevi reportedly refused to have a bodyguard stationed with him.
The hotel security guards, operating under professional police guidance, also did not succeed in apprehending the assailants when they entered and escaped the hotel. “At the moment, I am unable to comment on whether there was a failure. I would recommend not jumping to conclusions. Obviously the security matter will have to be reviewed and we'll coordinate it with all the relevant concerns,” Aharonishky said.
The Hyatt hotel is located in north Jerusalem, between French Hill and Mount Scopus, very near the border with East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority village of Issawiya. Despite the proximity to Palestinian Authority population centers, no special security measures have been taken by the hotel and ministers, and members of Knesset have not been prevented from staying there.
Published by Israel's Business Arena on 17 October, 2001