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Israelis remember rabin at peace rally { November 1 2003 }

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Israelis Remember Rabin at Peace Rally
Saturday November 1, 2003 11:46 PM

Associated Press Writer

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) - Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night to mark the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, showing their continued support for the stalled peace process.

The peace rally took place in the Tel Aviv plaza where Rabin was fatally shot on Nov. 4, 1995, by an extremist Jew opposed to his peace efforts.

``For me, this is reassurance of the desire for peace, reassurance for people against violence, and reassurance of Rabin's way,'' said Zvi Friedman, one of the rally's organizers.

A large picture of Rabin hung behind the stage, with the words ``Eight years since the murder.'' Many of the people in the crowd carried banners backing the peace process, saying, ``There is no other way.''

Labor party leader Shimon Peres, who was with Rabin at the plaza moments before he was gunned down, said he felt his old partner's presence at every memorial rally.

``Every time I mount these stairs, at this building, at this time of evening it is as if I am coming to shake Yitzhak's hand,'' he told the cheering crowd.

Peres said the path to peace is difficult, but the country must carry on.

``Without a clear decision, the Zionist enterprise will stand in mortal danger,'' he said. ``Even the right has started to understand that it's better to have two states which will have to live in peace than one state where two peoples fight forever over every piece of land, every drop of water.''

On Friday, vandals spray-painted graffiti on a memorial marking the spot where Rabin was shot and on a poster of Rabin in the square.

Workers cleaned the graffiti and security was tight at Saturday night's rally.

Hours earlier, Palestinian leaders, meeting to form a new government, welcomed a new offer from the Israeli government to resume peace talks. But they said any negotiations must come with efforts to stop violence and halt Jewish settlement building on land claimed by Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed willingness Thursday to meet with Palestinian leaders. The next day, Israeli media reported that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz plans to meet with Palestinian officials next week.

A new round of meetings depends in part on whether the Palestinians can form a government in the coming days. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who currently leads an emergency government with a one-month mandate, has until Tuesday to form a full Cabinet.

So far, Qureia has been unable to do so, mainly because of intense wrangling with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over ministerial choices. In particular, the two men have differed over who should control the Palestinian security forces.

In another development, legislators from Arafat's Fatah faction nominated a hard-liner, Rafiq al-Natche, to be parliament speaker, a position Qureia left vacant when he became prime minister. The speaker's post is important because the speaker would become acting leader of the Palestinian Authority if something were to happen to Arafat.

New Israeli-Palestinian contacts would likely try to revive the stalled U.S.-backed ``road map'' peace plan, which aims to end three years of fighting and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Continued fighting and the failure of both sides to meet key obligations has left the plan at a standstill.

Sharon's readiness to meet with Qureia, made in a speech Thursday night, reversed previous Israeli suggestions that it would not deal with the new Palestinian prime minister because he was too close to Arafat. Both Israel and the United States have sought to sideline Arafat, believing he is closely linked to terrorism.

Qureia responded Saturday, saying that while no meeting with Sharon was immediately forthcoming, there were contacts between the two sides.

``We have not studied the issue of a meeting, but there are contacts with the Israelis,'' Qureia said.

At the same time, Qureia is trying to restart talks with Hamas and other militant groups aimed at persuading them to stop suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.

Israeli leaders rejected a similar course plotted by his predecessor, insisting that the Palestinians dismantle the violent radical groups, a step required by the ``road map'' plan.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Cabinet minister in charge of negotiations, said the Palestinians were always ready for talks, but said Israel must stop construction in Jewish settlements built on West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in those areas.

Earlier Saturday, a Palestinian man riding a motorcycle in the West Bank city of Nablus was shot and killed in a refugee camp. The military said soldiers shot the man after he refused calls to stop, ignored warning shots and fled from troops.

The military said the man, Mohammed Hamad, 23, was lightly wounded in the leg. But an Associated Press reporter saw the man's body in a hospital morgue with two gunshot wounds to the chest.

In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said it fired at three Palestinians who entered a buffer zone near a fence along the border with Israel late Saturday. Two of the Palestinians were wounded. Their conditions, and the whereabouts of the third Palestinian, were not known.

The army said the Palestinians entered the buffer zone twice and appeared to be planting explosives.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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