Rabin's assassin gets life sentence

An Israeli court yesterday sentenced Yigal Amir, the religious student who shot dead Yitzhak Rabin, to life imprisonment. Judge Edmund Levy said: "With premeditation and amazing calm, he decided that the death of the late prime minister was the only way to stop the peace process he opposed."

Amir, who confessed to shooting Mr Rabin in the back as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv on 4 November, looked less assured than during his previous court appearances, but expressed no regret for his action. He told the court: "Everything I did, I did for God, for the Torah of Israel, the people of Israel and the land of Israel."

The court dismissed a defence plea for a manslaughter conviction. Judge Levy said: "Our conclusion is that he had no doubt about his intention to kill." As well as receiving the maximum life sentence, Amir, a 25-year- old law student, was also given six years, to be served consecutively, for wounding Rabin's bodyguard.

As he was led from the court, Amir shouted: "The state of Israel is a monster." During the two-month trial he gave conflicting evidence, at one point saying he had only intended to paralyse Rabin.

The prosecution produced statements made by him immediately after the assassination in which he said he wanted Rabin dead.

An examination by psychiatrists during the trial said Amir had "narcissistic and schizoid' tendencies but was sane. At times during the trial he took over from one of his lawyers, a right-wing Israeli settler from Texas, with uncertain Hebrew - in order to question police witnesses. Another lawyer said yesterday that Amir has an IQ of 144, far above average. His confident smirk irritated many Israelis watching the trial on television, but it was not in evidence yesterday.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi and a kindergarten teacher who came originally from Yemen, Amir received a religious education. After leaving the army he went to Bar-Ilan, a religious university near Tel Aviv, where he was a leading member of nationalist religious circles. He took part in demonstrations against the Oslo peace accords and the partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

He stalked Rabin for a year before he killed him. Throughout the trial there was no doubt that he was the killer since he was arrested immediately afterwards, and the assassination was filmed by an amateur video recorder. The Shamgar commission is to report today on the security breakdown which allowed Amir to get so close to his victim.

In the immediate aftermath of the killing it appeared that the murder of Rabin would prove counter-productive for the religious right. Shimon Peres, his successor, withdraw the Israeli army from several Palestinian towns on the West Bank without any protest. Israeli settlers on the West Bank were left isolated. The Labour Party appeared to be coasting to an election victory on 29 May.

But the murder helped initiate a cycle of violence which still continues. The desire of the Shin Bet domestic security agency to restore its reputation - and of Mr Peres to show that he was tough on security - helped to ensure that Israel went ahead with a plan to assassinate Yahya Ayyash, the Palestinian bomb-maker, in Gaza on 4 January. This, in turn, set the stage for the four suicide bombs which killed 62 people in Israel within nine days.

The government feared the Tel Aviv courtroom would become an Israeli version of the OJ Simpson trial, in which Amir would be able to justify his views to the public. In the event, the judge prevented him from making any political statements.

The drama of the trial was also deflated by the wrangling between Amir and his lawyers, who included an immigrant from America who appeared unfamiliar with Israeli law. The verdict and sentencing were broadcast live on television yesterday, the first time this has happened since the trialof Adolf Eichmann.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak, the Foreign Minister, said yesterday that Israel will not withdraw from Hebron, the last West Bank city it occupies, until the Palestinians stop terrorist bombers. He suggested that talks on a permanent peace agreement, set to begin in May, might be delayed.

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