GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak lamented the assassination of his nation's tourism minister as an act likely to further poison relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
``It's a tragic event,'' Barak said of Wednesday's shooting of Rehavam Zeevi in Jerusalem. ``It's a blow to the intentions of well-meaning people ... to help resume normalcy between us and the Palestinians.''
Barak, speaking before a speech Wednesday in Grand Rapids, said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may have denounced the assassination, but Arafat ``is clearly responsible for the atmosphere of terror that took over the Middle East.''
Barak said he does not believe Zeevi's assassination was related to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but said they are part of the same ongoing conflict.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for Zeevi's slaying, calling it revenge for the Aug. 27 killing of its leader in an Israeli missile attack. Israel said it had targeted Mustafa Zibri for organizing multiple car bombings.
Barak said Zeevi, a retired general and veteran of several of Israel's wars, ``dedicated his life'' to establishing a Jewish state.
Barak became prime minister in 1999 and was voted out in February.
Of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Barak praised the Bush administration's response, singling out the president for showing ``remarkable sense and instincts for leadership under crisis.''
``I believe that the steps that have been taken until now are the right ones,'' he said.