JERUSALEM (AFP)---The murder of former premier Yitzhak Rabin by a rightwing extremist was "one of the worst crimes," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday as Israel marked the 17th anniversary of the assassination.
"The murder of Yitzhak Rabin was one of the worst crimes of the new age," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, who held a minute's silence to mark the anniversary of Rabin's November 4, 1995 murder by a Jewish extremist who opposed his concessions to the Palestinians.
Israel marks the date according to the Hebrew calendar.
"It certainly besmirches the annals of the state and of Zionism," Netanyahu said.
"This murder also obliges us to safeguard Israel's democracy, to defend freedom of speech and to strongly reject all displays of violence," he added.
Later, at a memorial ceremony for Rabin at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery, Netanyahu raised the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, which he said is a threat to the security of Israel, the region and the world.
"Yitzhak Rabin identified that menace," he said, adding that "we must remember another principle that he understood: the guarantee of peace is our strength and our ability to defend ourselves."
Western powers and Israel accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb.
Israel has refused to rule out a military strike to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear military capabilities.
On Saturday night, around 30,000 people gathered to mark the anniversary in the Tel Aviv square where Rabin was gunned down by Yigal Amir as he left a peace rally.
State-owned Channel 1 TV showed participants with placards bearing Rabin's image and the slogan "Nobody will be allowed to raise their hand against democracy."
The general-turned-peacemaker inspired both admiration and hatred for signing the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. A year later, he was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize with now President Shimon Peres and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
With a general election set for January, organisers did not invite politicians to speak at the event, with this year's spotlight on youth movements, including for the first time the religious-nationalist Bnei Akiva, Rabin's ideological opponents.
"I think it is right that they should come," said former Education Minister Yuli Tamir, one of the evening's invited speakers and a veteran of Rabin's Labour party, but not a candidate in the coming polls.
"I think that we need to say that there are differences of opinion between us and that we can share the same stage but not the same opinion," she said in an interview with Israeli public radio.
"Seventeen years ago a prime minister was murdered, the Prime Minister of us all," Bnei Akiva Secretary General Danny Hirschberg told Channel 1.
"We are here tonight to tell all the youth, ours and others, that we want to map out the borders of democracy and talk about how we want to live in this country of ours."