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THE WORLD MOURNS : ASSASSINATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST : Leaders Shocked, Saddened by Martyrdom

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An emotional President Clinton praised slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Saturday as one of the world’s “greatest men,” calling him “a warrior for his nation’s freedom and now a martyr for his nation’s peace.”

Choking back tears in a hastily called appearance in the White House Rose Garden, the President also voiced both sympathy and strong U.S. support for the people of Israel. “Just as America has stood by you in moments of crisis and triumph, so now we all stand by you in this moment of grieving and loss,” he declared.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry indicated that Clinton will fly to Israel to attend Rabin’s funeral, which is scheduled for Monday. The President signed a proclamation calling for flags to be flown at half-staff in this country in respect for Rabin and for the Middle East peace process.

Around the world, some of the other leaders who had worked closely with Rabin on peace in the Middle East voiced similar expressions of sorrow.

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Most prominently, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat said he was “sad and very shocked for this awful and terrible crime against one of the brave leaders of Israel and the peacemakers.”

“I hope that they will have the ability, all of us, the Israelis and the Palestinians . . . to overcome this tragedy against the peace process, against the whole situation in the Middle East,” Arafat said, adding that he was offering condolences to Rabin’s family and to the Israelis. “And it’s not only my condolences, it’s the condolences of all the Palestinian people.”

A statement issued by the office of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Rabin “a man who gave to the peace process his ample energies and thought for the sake of achieving security and peace for the people of Israel and of the region after wars and bloody struggle.”

“Egypt condemns this criminal act . . . and asserts that achieving a just and comprehensive peace is a mission that only brave men can take upon themselves. Many principled men have fallen along the path toward achieving it, sacrificing their lives for the sake of their people.”

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That last sentence was an apparent reference to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who, like Rabin, was assassinated by opponents of peace within his own country.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Karim Kabariti called the assassination “tragic and shocking” but emphasized that “the peace process must go on.”

But on the streets of Amman, the Jordanian capital, some Arabs openly voiced happiness at the assassination.

Awni, a 21-year-old Jordanian whose family comes from Hebron in the West Bank, said: “I think it’s the best news I’ve heard today,” adding that his grandfather was killed 37 years ago in conflict with the Israelis. “I don’t know that we can do a true peace with Israel with so many of our people dead from them.”

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Elsewhere in the Middle East, too, there were others who made plain they were not unhappy about Rabin’s death.

In Iran, the official state news agency said Rabin had been “paid in his own coin,” suggesting that he may have played a role in the recent assassination of Fathi Shikaki, the leader of the extremist Islamic Jihad movement. “Rabin was an ardent advocate of state terrorism, and he believed that the Zionist entity should break every international norm in the pursuit of its sinister goals,” the Iranian statement said.

Both the state-owned Iraqi News Agency and the Syrian news media reported news of the assassination without any immediate comment.

In Lebanon, guerrilla groups fired shots into the night air, apparently in celebration at the news. “There are signs of happiness in Beirut and the southern suburbs and in many villages in South Lebanon,” a spokesman for the radical Islamic group Hezbollah told Reuters.

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In the United States, other American leaders echoed Clinton’s praise for Rabin.

“Prime Minister Rabin was a hero in a land of heroes,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.). “He was a soldier who died because he was a man of peace. His courage and vision won the admiration of the world, and the world will sorely miss him. God bless him, and God be with his family and the people of Israel.”

“Extremists on all sides in the Middle East should know that this cowardly violence will not deter the peace process, but rather will encourage those who carry on the search for peace to redouble our efforts,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that “history will record Prime Minister Rabin as one of the towering figures of this century. . . . We will rededicate ourselves to the very causes that inspired this great leader: the security of Israel, the unshakable bonds of friendship between the United States and Israel, and the promotion of Middle East peace.”

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House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) broke into tears in the middle of a speech Saturday night in Alpharetta, Ga., as he began talking about Rabin’s assassination.

“Frankly, I was a bit overwhelmed tonight to have an experience of such hatred that killed Rabin today,” Gingrich told about 500 people gathered at a fund-raiser for one of his favorite charities, Habitat for Humanity, the Associated Press reported.

He said he had already told the White House he was accepting Clinton’s invitation to attend Rabin’s funeral with the U.S. delegation.

Some American Jewish organizations pledged renewed support for the peace process.

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“We will do everything in our power to deny the apparent assassin his ultimate goal--an end to the peace process and another generation of hatred and war in the Middle East,” the American Jewish Congress said in a written statement. The Anti-Defamation League said that “this is a time for rededication to the goal of peace in the Middle East, and for the unity of the Jewish people.”

Tommy P. Baer, president of B’nai B’rith International, said: “Yitzhak Rabin will be remembered by all as a peacemaker. His memory can best be honored and preserved through a real and lasting peace through the region.”

Clinton was informed of the assassination by National Security Adviser Anthony Lake. Late Saturday afternoon, he spoke by phone both with Rabin’s widow, Leah, and with Rabin’s successor, acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

In his Rose Garden statement, Clinton quoted from the words Rabin himself had used at the White House earlier this fall: “We should not let the land flowing with milk and honey become a land flowing with blood and tears. Don’t let it happen.”

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Clinton then added: “Now it falls to us, all those in Israel, throughout the Middle East and around the world who yearn for and love peace to make sure it doesn’t happen. Yitzhak Rabin was my partner and my friend. I admired him and I loved him very much. . . . Goodby, friend.”

Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds in Amman contributed to this story.


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