Over breakfast at a Jerusalem hotel last Wednesday, Rehavam Zeevi, the right-wing Israeli tourism minister, told his wife that a suspicious-looking Arab seemed to be watching him.
According to an extraordinary account of Zeevi's killing published today by the Israeli government, the man watching Zeevi was Hamdi Ahmed Koraan, a resident of the West Bank town of el-Bireh, north of Jerusalem, and a member of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
When Zeevi finished breakfast shortly before 7 a.m., he rode the elevator up to the 8th floor, where Koraan and one of his accomplices were waiting behind the stairway door. As Zeevi went to open the door to his room with a magnetic key, Koraan emerged, called out to him and, as the Israeli turned, shot him twice in the face with a silencer-equipped pistol. Zeevi fell to the floor and was pronounced dead three hours later.
The Israeli account is based on interrogations of two of the four men suspected to have been in the hit squad, who were arrested by Israeli agents near Jerusalem in the days after the attack. The other two apparently remain at large. Israel has demanded that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority hand over all suspects in the case.
According to a reconstruction by Israeli security agents, the plot to kill Zeevi began to unfold in early October, just more than a month after Israel assassinated Mustafa Zibri, the head of the PFLP. Zibri's successor, Ahmed Saadat, determined to avenge Zibri's death, instructed the men who would become Zeevi's killers, Israel contends.
Key among them was Koraan. He recruited three other men into the PFLP and informed them that their mission would be to kill an important Israeli political figure, according to the government's account.
The men were supplied with pistols equipped with silencers, a Scorpion submachine gun and a rented commercial vehicle to be used as a getaway car. From then on, they carried out what Israeli officials describe as a textbook operation.
The day before the assassination, Koraan used forged documents to rent a room in Jerusalem's Hyatt Regency Hotel, where Zeevi stayed during sessions of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. He ordered one of his men, Mahmed Fahmi Rimawi, to station himself with a backup getaway car adjacent to the hotel. He took another man with him, Basel Rahman al-Asmer, whose job was to give cover to the assassin and help him escape.
After the shooting, Koraan and al-Asmer ran downstairs to the garage, jumped in their rented commercial vehicle and raced off. Rimawi, in the backup car, also fled. They met at the house of Tzalah Alawi, the fourth man in the hit squad, in an Arab village just beyond Jerusalem's Old City walls, according to the Israeli account.
Alawi and Rimawi were arrested. Koraan and al-Asmer remain at large.