Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel Wednesday denied accusations by the Palestinian Authority that it was behind the assassination of the director of Palestinian television and radio.
Hisham Mikki, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Network, was shot dead by three hooded men in the restaurant of a Gaza hotel.
The 54-year-old, a close associate of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, was shot in the head and chest, before the gunmen fled the scene.
The PA accused Israel of being behind the killing, but Israel denied any involvement. "The Israeli army [wants] to clarify that the Israeli army and security forces of Israel have no connection with the event," it said in a statement.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office declined to comment.
The PA has accused Israel of pursuing a policy of assassinating militant Palestinian leaders. Israel has said that it makes every effort to arrest Palestinians it suspects of planning or carrying out terror attacks, but will target them if necessary.
Because of this, there has been a new drive in the PA areas to nab those suspected of cooperating with Israel's security forces. At the weekend two suspected "collaborators" were executed by the PA and two others were gunned down earlier this week.
According to a report on Israel television, Mikki was also known to have private business interests, including some in Israel. The report speculated that he could thus have been assassinated by Palestinian militants out to purge "collaborators."
Palestinian broadcasts said that the PA mourned the passing of Mikki, whom it termed a martyr, and said he had been killed by "treasonous collaborators."
The PBC was set up in 1994 after Israel handed over most of the Gaza Strip and Jericho to PA control. Israel has long accused it of inciting violence and terrorism. It has also been used by the PA to fuel the current uprising.
Wednesday's shooting came shortly before a surprise announcement that a meeting would take place this evening between Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.
The news comes at a time when Israeli-Palestinian relations are set to enter a period of uncertainty after the two sides failed to reach an agreement during the term of U.S. President Clinton, who leaves office on Saturday.
Israel downplayed the idea that there could be a major breakthrough at the meeting, which is taking place in Cairo at the initiative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Ben-Ami flew to Cairo earlier to brief Mubarak on the diplomatic process.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz said Israel's view was that the level of violence should be reduced "drastically."
He said a series of meetings between Israeli and PA negotiators this week were aimed at identifying areas of agreement in the set of proposals suggested by Clinton recently as a basis for a peace deal.
Katz said the meeting in Cairo had not been planned in advance and that he did not expect a dramatic breakthrough to come out of it.
Clinton's bridging proposals include Israel relinquishing control over the eastern section of Jerusalem, as well as Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. In exchange, the PA was expected to give up its insistence that nearly four million Palestinians - refugees and their descendants - be allowed to return to Israel.
Palestinians Back Saddam, Who Vows 'Holy War'
Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians in the disputed territories rallied in favor of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the beginning of an allied attack aimed at driving Iraqi forces out of occupied Kuwait.
Saddam marked the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War touting his "triumph" and calling for a new war, which he pledged to win.
He also called for Arab support to launch a six-month artillery barrage against Israel to "liberate Palestine" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (in other words, the disputed areas as well as all of Israel.)
"Can any Arab feel fear in his heart ... after witnessing the 'Mother of All Battles' and the resistance in Palestine?" Saddam asked referring to his term for the war.
Iraqi newspapers reported that in a meeting with Palestinian political chief Farouq Kaddoumi, Saddam threatened a six-month siege of Israel.
"Could Israel resist uninterrupted artillery shelling for six months?" he asked.
"What is important is that Arab guns fire continually and courageously from land and sea ... If U.S. planes strike here and there, that will change nothing."
Since the beginning of the Palestinian wave of violence and terrorism in September, Saddam has announced that he has mobilized some 6.5 million volunteers to fight in a "holy war" against Israel.