Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - An Israeli woman was killed and her nephew wounded on Wednesday morning when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the car in which they were traveling, prompting Israel to close the Palestinian Authority airport.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he viewed with "great severity" the shooting of the 24-year-old woman, a customs official at the Israeli-Egyptian border crossing killed while driving to work.
The attack called into question the seriousness of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's "intentions to implement [ceasefire] understandings and decrease violence in region," especially on the eve of his meeting with President Clinton in Washington, Barak said in a statement.
Arafat is due to leave on Wednesday for a meeting with Clinton. The president hopes to find a formula to end six weeks of hostilities in which more than 170 people, mostly Palestinian rioters, have been killed.
Despite several attacks and shooting incidents Tuesday, Israeli officials estimated that violence had decreased by 30 to 40 per cent over the last week since a "truce" was agreed between Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Nonetheless, Barak has launched a new diplomatic effort, sending letters to heads of state describing the current state of relations between Israel and the PA.
His office said Barak emphasized in the letters that Israel has honored agreements which have been made while the PA has violated them. He urged the leaders to encourage Arafat to honor his commitments, end the violence and refrain from unilateral actions.
The letter was issued at a time when PA officials have strongly hinted that they will declare a Palestinian state as early as next week.
The White House announced Tuesday that former Democratic Senator George Mitchell would head an inquiry into the causes of the violence in Israel and the PA territories.
Mitchell played a crucial role in negotiations leading to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, a deal that is currently in a state of crisis.
Others who will participate include former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland and European Union security and foreign affairs head Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary-general.