Israelis pay final respects to Yitzhak Rabin


JERUSALEM, Nov. 5 -- Hundreds of thousands of Israelis on Sunday filed by the flag-draped casket of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to pay their last respects to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader who was assassinated Saturday night.

Rabin was killed by three bullets allegedly fired by Yigal Amir, 25, a university law student and Jewish extremist who reportedly told police he acted alone in shooting Rabin.


Hundreds of police officers guarded the grounds of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, where Rabin's coffin lay on a black pedestal surrounded by dozens of wreathes and an honor guard of soldiers from different branches of Israel's armed forces.

Thousands of people, many in tears, holding memorial candles, all expressing shock at the murder, stretched in a long line that ran for blocks leading into the Knesset grounds.

"In Russia, we didn't see good government, so this is a tragedy because he was a good person with a good government," said Anna Fuchson, 52, a recent immigrant. "I believe in the peace process; it is my hope. Thanks to his government I came here, so I will support it."


Up to 1 million Israelis were expected to file past the coffin by noon Monday before the start of the state funeral that will be attended by dozens of world leaders, including President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein, who signed a peace treaty with Rabin only one year ago.

The official mourning period began as members of the Knesset, led by Rabin's widow, Leah, weeping and supported by her son Yuval and daughter Dahlia, somberly marched past the casket, pausing for a few moments before moving on.

Two army rabbis recited Psalms as visitors passed slowly around the casket and sat down to pay their respects, with a more composed Leah Rabin sitting next to acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu and President Ezer Weizmann. Helicopters buzzed into the nearby landing pad delivering Israel's top army generals to pay respects to their predecessor Rabin, himself an army general who led Israel's forces to their stunning victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

An army command car brought Rabin's body to Jerusalem earlier in the day as thousands of Israelis lined the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, passing through the Shaar Hagai pass on its way into the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, the site where 47 years ago Rabin commanded a brigade of Jewish fighters breaking through to the besieged city during Israel's war of independence.


Peres was appointed acting prime minister and defense minister late Saturday night following an emergency Cabinet meeting. Peres will head a transitional government until Weizman calls on him to present a new government.

Rabin was shot as he left a demonstration in central Tel Aviv organized by his Labor Party to rally support for the peace process. Police estimated that 80,000 people attended the rally, cheering Rabin, who was accompanied by members of his Cabinet and the ambassadors of Egypt and Jordan.

"I believe there is a chance for peace, a great chance and we must take advantage of it," Rabin said minutes before being shot. "I have always believed that most of the people want peace."

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