Online world pulses with debate devoted to Rabin

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NEW YORK — People around the world collectively mourned the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by gathering in synagogues, community services — and cyberspace.

From far-flung locales such as Botswana and Beirut to Jewish population centers in North America, Jews and non-Jews logged on to their computers in astounding numbers once they heard about the assassination.

Each of the major online services had bulletin boards with hundreds of messages about the assassination. Several companies, including America Online, offered real-time cyberchats between members, some of whom vehemently disagreed.

On one AOL bulletin board this week, a man named "Zalmi" said: "The fact that Rabin was killed is the proper punishment for the person who gave away the land of Israel to the Arabs."

"SAlbert" promptly responded: "A Jew's murdering Rabin does not bode well for Israel, neither does the hatred and vitriol that Jews have directed toward each other.

"Now more than ever, we have a need for ahavas Yisrael [love of Israel] and for achdus Yisrael [unity of Israel]," he said.

Among the postings were thousands of condolences.

Most writers were from North America and Israel. But many logged on from Finland, Singapore, South Africa and Australia.

The common thread in most of the messages was a sense of shock and sadness. Some wrote that they despaired for the future of the Jewish people. Some clung to a sense of hope for the peace process.

Thousands of messages have been written in each of the 14 "condolence books" put on the World Wide Web by the Israeli Internet provider service Netking (http://www.netking.com).

Hundreds more were posted on the condolence page put up by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (http://www.Israel-mfa.gov.il/news), according to a ministry spokesman in Jerusalem, who was responding to an e-mail query.

All of the messages, the creators of the web pages promised, will be passed on to Leah Rabin, the prime minister's widow.

On the Actcom page (http://actcom.co.il/asi/), Hebrew poetry written for Rabin was interspersed with photos, comments and even a message from the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah in Beirut.

"There was heavy firing into the sky in celebration in several parts of Beirut when it was learned that Rabin was dead," according to the Hezbollah spokesman in Beirut.

But not everyone from Lebanon agreed with the celebrations. Hanna Abou-Makhlouf wrote in one of the condolence files: "I am very upset at the `spontaneous' happy demonstrations in the streets of Beirut."