Widow blames Likud violence

The aftermath: Peres promises to continue the peace process as talks proceed on Israeli withdrawal from West Bank town
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The Independent Online


Israel is to move ahead with the next stage of its withdrawal from the West Bank amid a growing row over the role of Likud, the main right-wing party, in fuelling the political violence which culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Israeli and PLO officers met in the northern town of Jenin to work out details of the handover of the first West Bank town to come under Palestinian self-rule since Rabin reached agreement on the latest stage of the Oslo accords. Shimon Peres, the acting prime minister, said: "I shall continue the process of peace that we have started."

Rabin's widow, Leah, has directly accused Likud and its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, of stirring up hatred which led to her husband's death. She said that at the funeral she did not want to accept Mr Netanyahu's condolences, but shook his hand anyway because she did not want to make a scene.

"Yes, surely I blame them," Mrs Rabin said at her home. "If you ever heard their speeches at the Knesset [Parliament] you would understand what I mean. They were very, very violent in their expressions: We are selling the country down the drain. There will be no Israel after this peace agreement."

Mr Netanyahu said he did not take what Mrs Rabin said to heart because she was in deep grief. He added: "These attempts now to make political hay out of this, to try to say it is the responsibility of the Likud, are like asking whether Lee Harvey Oswald was a Republican or a Democrat and then blaming the party." Other Likud leaders say that 50 per cent of Israelis were with them in opposing the Oslo accords, but Labour supporters have asked why posters showing Mr Rabin's face superimposed on a gun target were allowed at Likud rallies.

After talks with John Major, one of the many foreign leaders who attended Rabin's funeral on Monday, Mr Peres said the withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Bank Arab towns and villages would go ahead on schedule. The pullout is to be largely complete by the end of the year. Israel has also eased the closure of the West Bank and Gaza.

Meanwhile Yossi Beilin, the Economics Minister, discouraged speculation that Mr Peres might seek to bring forward the general election, due next October, to capitalise on the sympathy for Rabin and his policies. "Why should we advance the elections after what happened?" he asked. "Why should we give a prize to the assassins, that they can stop everything by killing the Prime Minister?"

Amid controversy over security lapses which allowed Yigal Amir, the assassin, to get close to Rabin, Israel has started a clampdown against known members of extreme Jewish organisations. Avishai Raviv, head of the far-right group, Eyal, who praised Mr Amir immediately after Monday's funeral, spoke to Israeli army radio from hiding to say he feared arrest. While denying any involvement in the killing of the Prime Minister, he admitted that Mr Amir was a member of his organisation.

Fresh details of Rabin's last moments have also emerged from his driver. Menachem Damati says Mr Amir shouted as he raised his hand to shoot: "It's nothing ... they are not real bullets." Mr Damati did not say if the gunman's claims confused bodyguards, but said he himself wanted to believe the bullets were fake.

Only later, as he drove towards the hospital with Rabin and his bodyguard did he realise the Prime Minister was seriously hurt. "We asked him 'Where does it hurt?' and he said, 'In the back.' Then he said suddenly 'Not so bad, not so bad,' as if he were worried about us," Mr Damati said. "But as he finished saying 'not so bad', his head fell and the bodyguard was screaming at me, 'Drive, drive'."

Israel Radio said four far-right-wingers had been arrested. More arrests are planned, and some activists have gone into hiding. A spokeswoman said David Libai, the Justice Minister, planned to ban incitement to violence against public figures.

Angry Rabin supporters tore down posters that depicted him in Nazi uniform or wearing Yasser Arafat's distinctive keffiyeh headdress. On Mount Herzl thousands of Israelis continued to file past Rabin's grave and held candlelight vigils outside his Tel Aviv home.

Future of the right, page 17