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Slain Israeli Olympians Remembered

August 12, 2002

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MUNICH, Germany (AP) _ Relatives and athletes joined in a memorial service Sunday for the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, standing in a moment of silence, listening to songs and speeches and promising not to forget the victims.

Amid extraordinary security and in cool, drizzly weather, 25 relatives of the athletes who were killed were joined by the Israeli team in Munich for the European athletics championship, a track and field competition that ended Sunday.

The one-hour ceremony took place at the monument to the victims, a large stone tablet placed at the bridge linking the former Olympic village to the Olympic stadium. The victims’ names are etched in the stone in German and Hebrew, with the solemn words: ``In honor of their memory.″

An Israeli flag was draped across the tablet, with 11 candles burning and fresh wreaths laid at the foot of the monument. Six Israeli flags fluttered in the wind.

A 17-member Israeli team participated in this year’s European championship _ the first time since the Munich Olympics that athletes from any country competed in the village, which is normally used as a student dormitory.

During the ceremony, police helicopters circled above, the main highway passing under the bridge was closed off in both directions and police sharpshooters scanned the area from atop the bridge supports.

On Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists stormed an Olympic Village apartment house at the Munich Olympics, killing two Israeli athletes and holding the others hostage in an effort to gain the freedom of 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In a botched rescue attempt after a 20-hour standoff, nine more Israeli athletes were killed, as well as five terrorists and a German policeman.

``The Israeli team arrived in Munich in 1972 in order to participate in (the) Olympic spirit, to strive in peace and brotherhood,″ Jack Cohen, general secretary of the Israeli athletics federation, said during the ceremony.

``But they did not achieve their mission; instead, they returned in 11 caskets,″ Cohen said.

The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, said the Israelis were killed ``in cold blood, with the knowledge of Yasser Arafat,″ the Palestinian leader.

In the rescue attempt at the Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield just outside Munich, the Israelis died in two helicopters after a shootout between a terrorist and police. Ankie Schpitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andrei Schpitzer, one of the 11 victims, said it was difficult for her to see the police helicopters providing security for the ceremony because of the memories they brought back.

She criticized the rescue attempt as ``incompetent and stupid.″

``We are here not to forget and not to forgive,″ said Schpitzer, who was at the 1972 games with her husband.

She also assailed the International Olympic Committee, which she said has never commemorated the victims out of fears of an Arab boycott of the games. The IOC could not immediately be reached for a response.

Michal Rot, the 20-year-old daughter of Esther Rot, an Israeli athlete in 1972 who escaped capture because female competitors were in a different building, sang and performed on the guitar a song she composed in memory of the tragedy.

The relatives listened to the Israeli national anthem and placed wreaths at the monument. They later also visited the Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield.

Among the Israeli athletes attending the ceremony was Alex Averbukh, who on Saturday won the pole vault competition at the European track and field championships, becoming the first Israeli to ever win a medal at that tournament.

``It was unbelievable,″ Nili Abramski, a 10,000-meter runner, said of her teammate.

``To think that he did it in the same stadium, it was the most amazing thing,″ Abramski said. ``And to hear the Israeli national anthem in this stadium.″

She praised Germans spectators. ``They stayed for the medal ceremony and listened to the anthem.″

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