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Thousands gathered yesterday evening at the Tel Aviv square named for prime minister Yitzkak Rabin, who was shot to death at the site 14 years ago by a right-wing extremist.

Remarking on Rabin's quest for peace during his life, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a video message that "Israelis will not find true security while the Palestinians are gripped by hopelessness and despair."

Some participants held signs reading "Yes to dialogue with Hamas." Signs with party slogans were absent, in contrast to previous years.

In the video, which was screened at the rally and televised, Obama praised Rabin as a statesman who saw the world through the prism of war and peace. He quoted Rabin as having said that the only battle it was a pleasure to wage was the battle for peace.

Obama added that the answer to all of the doubts that accompanied Rabin's quest for peace must be "yes," as everyone is working toward a lasting peace for Israel and its neighbors.

The U.S. president reassured the crowd that "America's bond with our Israeli allies is unbreakable," and pledged that U.S. support for Israel's defense will never be undermined.

President Shimon Peres opened the ceremony, which was interspersed with performances by Israel's leading artists, saying that it was "better to have imperfect peace, than a perfect war with no end."

Peres also addressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech, saying that "we both signed the Oslo accords, and I turn to you as a colleague and ask that you don't let go." On Thursday Abbas said he would not seek reelection.

In his address Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said that "everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the murder." He added: "An accusing finger was pointed at an entire political wing and its leaders, who didn't agree with Rabin's vision. Fourteen years have gone by and it is time now to reach out our hands to our brothers."

Kadima chairwoman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni said in her speech: "The quiet is deceptive. We are sitting on a volcano, but... we have control over our destiny, and it is within our power to decide what happens here in Israel."