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Leah Rabin, 72, Picked Up Slain Husband’s Peace Torch

Leah Rabin, widow of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and a leading proponent of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has died at 72 after losing a battle with lung cancer.

“The Middle East has lost a friend of peace,” President Clinton said in a statement issued after she died Sunday.

“The work to which she and Yitzhak dedicated their lives must and will continue.”

Rabin stood by her husband throughout his military and political careers, and she championed his peace policies after his assassination five years ago.

Her illness prevented her from taking part in memorial ceremonies last week marking the fifth anniversary of her husband’s assassination.

She died Sunday afternoon surrounded by family members.

Rabin confirmed earlier this year that she had lung cancer and was recently hospitalized after complaining of chest pains.

She is survived by two children, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, a lawyer who now serves in the Knesset, and Yuval, who founded a peace group after the assassination and now represents an Israeli software firm in the United States. She also leaves behind three grandchildren.

A prominent and sometimes controversial figure in Israeli society, Rabin was born Leah Schlossberg in 1928 in Germany.

The day after Hitler rose to power, her family immigrated to what was then called Palestine.

She grew up in Tel Aviv and at the age of 15 met Yitzhak Rabin, then 21 years old. Leah Rabin once described the encounter as love at first sight, their eyes locking as they stood near an ice cream stand on a Tel Aviv street.

The two married during the 1948 War of Independence.

She staunchly supported Yitzhak throughout his army career, his posting as U.S. ambassador to Washington and while he served as prime minister and defense minister.

In 1977, he stepped down as prime minister after it was discovered that Leah Rabin had maintained a U.S. bank account while he was posted in Washington — a violation of Israeli currency regulations at the time. She was later fined for the offense, which prompted her critics to accuse her of sabotaging her husband’s political career.

Leah was long known for speaking her mind plainly.

Following her husband’s 1995 assassination, she accused then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of cultivating an atmosphere of incitement that led up to the slaying.

Rabin refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand at her husband’s funeral, where she sat with silent dignity as world leaders came to pay their respects.

When Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996, she threatened to pack her bags and leave the country.

Following her husband’s assassination, Rabin took up the torch for peace, becoming a fierce advocate of his legacy.

In September, she told an Israeli newspaper that “Yitzhak is surely turning in his grave,” accusing Prime Minister Ehud Barak of not following on her husband’s path toward peace.

Nava Barak, the wife of the current prime minister, addressed the disagreement from her hotel suite in Chicago, where the General Assembly of U.S. Jewish leaders is being held this week.

There are “different ways to achieve peace,” Nava Barak said.

“If there was a disagreement about the way, that’s not important. What is important is that we all pursue the path of peace.”

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