Sixth man held for Rabin death

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

Israeli police have arrested a sixth man suspected of conspiring to kill Yitzhak Rabin. Michael Epstein was detained as a result of the interrogation of Yigal Amir, the young religious student who murdered the Prime Minister last Saturday.

It remains unclear whether the assassination was the result of a plot, as Moshe Shahal, the Police Minister, claims, or the act of one man with the prior knowledge, but not assistance, of others.

Police said Mr Epstein, 23, was a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan and a friend of Rabin's confessed killer.

Amir said he acted alone but police later arrested five other right- wing religious Jews. They also uncovered an arms and ammunition stockpile at the home of Amir's family. Police say Mr Epstein, like the other suspects, knew of Amir's intention to kill the Prime Minister but did nothing to stop him. Mr Epstein is also accused of organising with others to attack Arabs.

Amir's brother, Hagai, arrested two days after the assassination, is accused of preparing the hollow-nosed bullets used in the shooting.

Mr Shahal said the investigation had uncovered at least three previous attempts on Rabin's life but did not say by whom.

A telling sign of the political impact of the assassination has been the relative lack of opposition to the first visit to Israel by the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat. He arrived at the home of Leah Rabin in Tel Aviv late on Thursday to offer his condolences for the death of her husband.

Mr Arafat called Rabin "a hero of peace" and said he had lost a personal friend. Mrs Rabin responded that her husband considered Mr Arafat "a full partner in peace" and wished him success in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Mr Arafat said it was on the advice of Israeli security that he had stayed away from the funeral.

The government press office director, Uri Dromi, said Mr Arafat's visit symbolised "what Yitzhak Rabin lived and died for - to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The meaning of peace is that instead of treating your neighbour as an enemy, you treat him as just a human being. When something terrible happens to him, you just go to his family and pay condolences. This is exactly what Yasser Arafat did," Mr Dromi told Reuters.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud opposition, responded quietly to the Arafat visit, against which he would certainly have protested vigorously a week ago. "I think a bereavement meeting is understandable," he said. Mr Netanyahu is still trying to live down Mrs Rabin's accusations earlier this week that he was responsible for the climate of violence which contributed to her husband's death.

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