Israeli leader Rabin slain Prime minister cut down by gunfire at peace rally

Jewish law student held

Shimon Peres appointed interim head of government

November 05, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv contributed to this article. HTC

JERUSALEM -- A gunman shot and killed Yitzhak Rabin last night in Tel Aviv as the prime minister left a joyful rally supporting his peace plans.

The Israeli Cabinet met and named Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as interim prime minister. After a mourning period, Mr. Peres will likely be asked by Israel's president to form a new government.

Mr. Rabin, 73, was shot three times as he walked toward his car at the end of the huge public rally in the Tel Aviv municipal square. He had spoken glowingly of peace, and with his wife had watched in clear enjoyment at the turnout, estimated at 80,000, in favor of his government's peacemaking with the Palestinians.

A man identified as Yigal Amir, 27, a law student at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University, was arrested and charged with the assassination. Israel radio said he had lived temporarily in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank.

"I acted alone, on God's orders, and I have no regrets," Israeli police quoted Mr. Amir as telling them.

Authorities said Mr. Amir told them he had tried three times before to attack the prime minister.

Mr. Rabin, bleeding from the chest, was taken to a Tel Aviv hospital. Government officials said he had no heartbeat or blood pressure on arrival, and the bullets had pierced major arteries and [See Israel, 24A] his spine. His body will lie in state at the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, today. The funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow, to give time for world leaders to arrive.

The assassination throws into disarray the progress toward peace with the Palestinians that Mr. Rabin had come to champion after a long career as a hard-line militarist.

Mr. Peres is seen as the architect of the peace plan, which culminated in an accord signed with the Palestinians in Washington in September 1993. But Mr. Peres has conventionally been deemed too liberal to gain the broad support of Israelis who worry about their security.

Indeed, it was the combination of the idealist, Mr. Peres, and the tough former general, Mr. Rabin, that succeeded in moving Israel far toward peace with Palestinians and its Arab neighbors.

The achievement won them the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The next general elections are scheduled for November 1996, but could be advanced if Mr. Peres can put together a majority in the Knesset and achieve public ratification of his coalition.

There were quick recriminations by Mr. Rabin's supporters at the often-violent rhetoric that has been used against the government by the opposition right wing and Jewish settlers determined not to give up areas of the West Bank and Gaza that they consider the Land of Israel.

Mr. Arafat, in Gaza, called the assassination "an awful, terrible crime."

"He was one of the brave leaders of Israel, and the peacemakers," Mr. Arafat said. "I hope all of us will have the ability to overcome this tragedy."

Mr. Rabin's assailant shot the prime minister at close range, even though Mr. Rabin was accompanied by security agents as he left the Tel Aviv rally. He had walked down steps from a platform where he had addressed the rally, and as he neared his car he passed close to a police barricade.

The assassin apparently fired from the area of the barricade. Police officials said yesterday they would investigate how the gunman got so close, but it is not unusual for Israeli leaders to be caught in crowds at demonstrations and protests.

"Rabin came down the steps. He waved to the people, smiled, and came down," said Baruch Liberman, 21, a yeshiva student who said he was about 10 feet away.

"He waved his hand and suddenly we heard three shots, and then we saw Rabin go down. He was pushed into the car, surrounded by many security men with drawn revolvers. The doors were closed and he left.

"And then we saw on the side security men surrounding a man who was on the floor," the apparent gunman, said Mr. Liberman.

Israel Army radio said Mr. Amir told police he had been planning the assassination for a long time, and had been deterred by security guards three times before.

They identified him as a resident of Herzaliya, an affluent neighborhood north of Tel Aviv. His father is a scribe, who copies scriptures by hand, and his mother is a nursery school teacher.

The attack came at the end of an evening designed to give Mr. Rabin a boost. Supporters of his peace program planned the rally to confront the vitriolic and incessant protests by the right wing.

Police said about 80,000 people came to the rally, packing Tel Aviv's large Kings of Israel Square and spilling into the streets.

It was a festive affair, with balloons and banners. Youths splashed into the water fountain in front of the elevated speakers' area, and some of Israel's most popular singers came to perform between the speeches.

A small group of protesters were cordoned off to one side. Hundreds of police were there, and they brought horses for crowd control and water cannons, but there were no clashes.

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