Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who led Israel to victory in 1967 and began the march toward peace a generation later, was shot dead by a lone assassin on Saturday evening as he was leaving a vast rally in Tel Aviv.
Rabin, 73, was struck down by one or two bullets as he was entering his car. Police immediately seized a 27-year-old Israeli law student, Yigal Amir, who had been active in support of Israeli settlers but who told the police on Saturday night that he had acted alone.
The police said Amir had also told them that he had tried twice before to attack the prime minister.
It was the first assassination of a prime minister in the 47-year history of the state of Israel.
Rabin was to lead his Labor party in elections scheduled for November next year, and without him the prospects for a Labor victory, and of a continuation of his policies, were thrown into question.
In the immediate aftermath, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Rabin’s partner in the peace negotiations, automatically became acting prime minister. It was widely expected that he would be formally confirmed as Rabin’s successor.
Rabin, who rose to national prominence as commander of the victorious Israeli army in the 1967 Six-Day War, became the second Middle Eastern leader, after President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, to be killed by extremists from his own side for seeking an Arab-Israeli peace.
Shortly before his death, Rabin, obviously buoyed by the huge turnout of more than 100,000 supporters of the peace process, told the rally: “I always believed that most of the people want peace and are ready to take a risk for it.”
He then joined other participants in singing the “Song of Peace,” a popular paean.
At 9:30 p.m., as he was preparing to enter his car, there were four shots. Two struck one of Rabin’s bodyguards, who was reported in critical condition. One or two struck the prime minister. The minister of health, Ephraim Sneh, said that Rabin had no heartbeat or blood pressure when he arrived at Ichilov Hospital.
He was pronounced dead at 11:10 p.m.
At 11:15 p.m., the director of Rabin’s office, Eytan Haber, came out before the waiting crowd at the hospital to read a brief statement: “The government of Israel announces with shock and deep sorrow the death of the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin tonight in Tel Aviv.”
The crowd, which only recently was singing and dancing in the streets, erupted in shouts of “No! No!”
The rally had been called by a coalition of left-wing political parties and peace groups as a response to increasingly strident street protests by the right-wing opponents of the peace agreement. More than 100,000 people turned out on Kings of Israel Square in front of Tel Aviv’s city hall; organizers declared it the largest rally in the coastal city in at least a decade.
As word spread, scenes of grief and fear spread through Israeli streets. In Jerusalem, women wept and stunned students gathered in groups, wondering what would happen to them and their future.
“I’m not crying for Rabin, I’m crying for Israel,” one woman sobbed. About 1,000 mourners gathered outside Rabin’s residence with candles, while devout Jews gathered at the Western Wall in the Old City to chant memorial prayers.
For all the passion of the debate over the peace, the notion of an assassination of an Israeli leader by an Israeli Jew was far from anybody’s mind in a nation whose greatest bond has been the joint Jewish struggle for survival against hostile Arab neighbors.
The police said that before entering the law school of Bar-Ilan University, Amir had studied in a yeshiva, a religious institution, and was a member of Eyal, an extreme right-wing group. Eyal leaders, however, denied any link to the killing.
Like many Israelis, Amir was licensed to carry a pistol. He lived in Herzliya, a northern suburb of Tel Aviv. The Israeli radio said he had confessed, and quoted him as saying: “I acted alone on God’s orders and I have no regrets.”
Environment Minister Sarid blamed the mainstream Israeli right for creating the climate of his assassination. “He fell victim to a lot of incitement and hatred and hostility,” Sarid said.
“For a long time we said that this is giving legitimacy to murder. But our admonitions went unheard, and there was encouragement, and the blood was spilled. One man did it, but there were many more inciters.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Rabin’s biography Name. Yitzhak Rabin. Birthdate. Born March 1, 1922 in Jerusalem. Education. While still in high school, he joined the Palmach underground army in British Palestine, beginning a long military career, rising to chief of staff in 1964. Experience. In 1974, ruling Labor Party designated Rabin, then a political novice, to succeed Prime Minister Golda Meir. Resigned three years later in a scandal, then returned to government in 1984 and served for six years as defense minister. Became prime minister in 1992. Family. Wife, Leah; one son, one daughter.