- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

TEL AVIV — Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered last 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

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 settlements on land claimed by Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed willingness on Thursday to meet with Palestinian leaders. The next day, Israeli media reported that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz plans to meet with Palestinian officials this 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction nominated a hard-liner, Rafiq al-Natche, to be parliament speaker, a position Mr. Qureia left vacant when he became prime minister.

New Israeli-Palestinian contacts would likely try to revive the stalled U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

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