TEL AVIV, Nov. 4 -- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was fatally wounded in a shooting at a Tel Aviv peace rally Saturday, and authorities say a 27-year-old Jewish extremist was in custody.
Rabin, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pursuit of peace in the Middle East, suffered three gunshot wounds, state-run Israeli Radio said. He died at a Tel Aviv hospital shortly after the shooting late Saturday.
"We have news that, the government of Israel notifies you with great anguish that the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered at the hands of an attacker tonight in Tel Aviv," government spokesman Eitan Haber said late Saturday. "May his memory be blessed."
A gunman identified as Yigal Amir, a law student at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, was led away by police after the shooting. Police identified the man as a Jewish extremist opposed to the peace process with the Palestinians.
Amir reportedly told police he acted alone. In his speech before the shooting, Rabin, 73, told the rally he was convinced peace was attainable.
"I have been an army man for 27 years. I fought as long as there was no chance for peace," Rabin said. "I believe there is a chance for peace, a great chance and we must take advantage of it to the benefit of those who stand here and for those who do not stand here. I have always believed that most of the people want peace.
"This rally must broadcast to the Israeli public, to the Jewish public in the world, to the Arab worlds around it and the external world that the people of Israel want peace."
Rabin's wife, Leah Rabin, arrived at the hospital just moments after the shooting, which occurred about 10 p.m. (3 p.m. EST). Also at the hospital were the Egyptian ambassador and senior government officials.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and world leaders, including President Clinton, condemned the assassination.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who was prime minister in 1984 and 1985, was named acting prime minister. Peres is the leading candidate to replace Rabin.
At the end of the speeches Rabin, Peres and other dignitaries returned to the podium to sing "a song of peace" together with Egyptian Ambassador Mohammed Basyouni and Jordanian Ambassador Marwan Muasher, who were guests at the rally.
"I was standing three meters from the car. Rabin was walking down the steps, talking to people, waving to people and smiling," said Baruch Lieberman, 21, a student. "He was in front of the car, waved his hand and suddenly I heard three shots. Then I saw Rabin go down. He was pushed into the car and surrounded by many security people with their guns drawn. The car left and then we saw on the side security people surrounding a man who was on the ground.
"The security people shouted at us to lie on the ground and they waved their hands to go down. We didn't grasp that these were shots," said Eli Levy, 19.
"We thought somebody threw something. There weren't many people there, it was very dark."
Rabin was a leading figure in establishing peace with the Palestinians and the neighboring state of Jordan. But his pro-peace stance came at a tremendous political price -- he faced opposition from right-wing political groups for pursuing peace at the same time that terrorist attacks against Israelis continued.
Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an interim peace treaty on Sept. 13, 1993, and partially rocky negotiations between the two parties have continued. Rabin was in Washington just over a month ago, for the formal signing of the latest stage of the Palestinian autonomy accord, which set the terms for an Israeli military withdrawal from some Palestinian communities on the West Bank.
The agreement also provided for the transfer to the Palestinians of administration authority over one million Arabs. It was the most difficult and controversial of the peace agreements Rabin helped engineer.
The accord has been criticized by both Israeli and Palestinian elements who have been hostile to the peace process, even while it has been hailed as historic progress by leaders of other countries. In recent days, as Israeli troops began their redeployment, Rabin was the target of newly impassioned criticism within his country.
Rabin, a former defense minister, had been at the center of the gathering peace process since his Labor Party was returned to power. The intense negotiations with the Palestinians, with its trade of some settled lands for increased security, has focused the still increasing ire of conservative elements in Israel on Rabin in a way that earlier negotiations, such as those leading to the 1994 peace pact with Jordan, never did. That achievement ended 46 years of war and mistrust with Jordan.
At the time of the shooting, Rabin was speaking to a peace rally at Kings of Israel Square in front of Tel Aviv City Hall. Police estimated the crowd at 80,000 people.