Thousands of Israelis at peace rally honouring Rabin

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Tel Aviv (AFP)

Thousands of people attended a memorial rally for slain Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin on Saturday, despite earlier fears it would be cancelled, an AFP journalist said.

Organisers put the number at around 50,000, while Israeli media said 20,000. Police did not give an official estimate.

There had been fears that lack of funding would for the first time in 21 years prevent the annual event in the central Tel Aviv square which bears the name of the Nobel peace laureate shot dead at the site by a Jewish extremist on November 4, 1995.

The rally has traditionally been a display of respect for Rabin and of support for peace with the Palestinians, which he sought.

On Monday, the usual organisers said they had been unable to raise sufficient funds to hold the commemoration and that it might not be possible to go ahead.

It was only on Friday that the opposition Zionist Union, a parliamentary alliance of Rabin's Labour party and the centrist HaTnuah, said it would step into the breach.

"I could not resign myself to the cancellation of the rally," Labour leader Isaac Herzog posted on his Twitter account.

"We decided to preserve the tradition and to take over the organisation of the event."

The intervention of the centre-left comes despite a pledge by those close to Rabin after the murder to hold a major non-partisan rally in his memory each year for all Israelis.

"It's sad that the evening has become a political event, but we came anyway because the important thing is the goal of raising our children in a better country," said Ayelet Barak, who like many others attended the event with her young children.

Many youth activists wore T-shirts bearing logos of Israeli opposition parties or with slogans such as "We do not forgive or forget".

Herzog gave a fighting speech from the podium.

"Tonight we are not lighting candles, we are going to war for our democracy," he said.

Mass peace rallies have become increasingly rare in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government seen as the most right-wing in the country's history.

Rabin won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo peace accords, which envisioned an independent Palestinian state.

Rabin's killer, Yigal Amir, was opposed to the Oslo accords. He is serving a life sentence in prison.