At Site of Rabin’s Assassination, 250,000 Memorialize Slain Leader

Amid tight security measures, an estimated 250,000 Israelis attended a memorial ceremony Sunday at the Tel Aviv square where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated a week earlier.

At the ceremony, held after the completion of the seven-day mourning period for Rabin, the city of Tel Aviv renamed the site “Yitzhak Rabin Square.”

Rabin’s widow, Leah, was the only speaker at the event.

Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who attended the ceremony despite warnings from security officials to stay away, sat far back on the stage, away from the crowd.

In her remarks, Leah Rabin thanked the nation, in particular its youth, for the outpouring of support voiced in the wake of the Nov. 4 assassination.

Addressing the gathering from the same spot from which her husband addressed a peace rally the week before, Leah Rabin said the utmost tribute to him would be the continuation of the peace process.

She called on Peres to continue the work of her late husband.

“I appeal to you, Shimon Peres, to continue to guide the Israeli nation to peace in the path and spirit of Yitzhak,” she said.

Rabin, who in the days after the assassination said supporters of her husband’s peace policies had not been vocal enough in rejecting the often harsh rhetoric of his critics, returned to the same theme at Sunday’s rally.

The late prime minister’s supporters, she said, had left him “alone in the turret” even in the face of “the writing on the wall, insults and terrible hatred” directed at his peace policies by members of the extreme right.

But, she added, “now the silent majority will be silent no longer.”

Support for the peace process grew dramatically in the wake of the assassination.

According to a poll published last Friday by the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, 74 percent of Israelis favored a continuation of the peace process with the Palestinians, while 23 percent opposed it.

A similar poll published Sept. 28 indicated that the two camps were in a statistical dead heat.

Aerial television pictures of Sunday’s rally showed a mass of people crowded into the square.

A sign saying “Shalom, Chaver,” or “Goodbye, Friend” – words used by President Clinton in the aftermath of the assassination – stood atop a large picture of the slain Israeli leader.

The picture, bordered by Israeli flags, hung near the spot at which the late prime minister had addressed 100,000 peace supporters a week before.

Strict measures were taken to secure Sunday’s event. Some 2,000 police and other security personnel were on hand; roads were closed off to traffic in the surrounding area.

Israel Television carried pictures of police detaining a bearded man wearing a baseball cap who was walking around behind the stage without the required permits to be there. The man was carrying a briefcase, which he told police contained pens.

Earlier in the day, a brief, private ceremony was held at the late leader’s graveside at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem.

The memorial was attended by members of the Rabin family, close friends, members of the Cabinet and army, and other public officials.

After the brief service, during which Kaddish was read, the family members filed past the grave, which was covered by mounds of flowers left by those who visited during the week.

Hundreds of memorial candles at the grave flickered in the cold Jerusalem air.

Among other items left at the grave by mourning Israelis were an olive tree sapling as well as a tennis racket and two canisters of balls – a tribute to the late prime minister’s love of the sport.

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