Shimon Peres, former Israeli president, dies aged 93

Shimon Peres, who served twice as Israel’s prime minister and once as president, has died at the age of 93.

Mr Peres suffered a stroke two weeks ago. His condition had improved before a sudden deterioration on Tuesday.

His son Chemi led tributes to “one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel” who “worked tirelessly” for it.

World figures are expected to attend his funeral in Jerusalem on Friday, including US President Barack Obama, Prince Charles and Pope Francis.

Mr Peres was one of the last of a generation of Israeli politicians present at the new nation’s birth in 1948.

He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1994 for his role negotiating peace accords with the Palestinians a year earlier.

He once said the Palestinians were Israel’s “closest neighbours” and might become its “closest friends”.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as they pose with the Nobel Peace Prize, 1994.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his part in negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians

Mr Peres died in a hospital near Tel Aviv early on Wednesday, with his family at his bedside.

He had been in the intensive care unit of the Sheba Medical Centre after suffering a major stroke on 13 September.

The funeral will be held at Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery in Jerusalem.

The Clintons, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have all confirmed they will attend, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

‘Giant among men’

He “left us without suffering”, said Rafi Walden, his son-in-law.

Mr Peres’s son, Chemi, said of his father: “He served our people before we even had a country of our own.

“He worked tirelessly for Israel from the very first day of the state to the last day of his life.

“My father used to say – and I’m quoting – you are only as great as the cause you serve.”

Media captionChemi Peres said his father “worked tirelessly for Israel – from the first day of the state to the last day of his life”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “deep sorrow” over Mr Peres’ death.

“As a man of vision, his gaze was aimed to the future,” he said in a video statement.

“As a man of security, he fortified Israel’s strength in many ways, some of which even today are still unknown.

“As a man of peace, he worked until his final days toward reconciling with our neighbours for a better future for our children.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his cabinet ministers observe a moment of silence during a special cabinet meeting to mourn the death of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 201Image copyrightAP
Image captionA special cabinet meeting was called to mourn Mr Peres’ death

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama called Mr Peres his “dear friend” in a statement, and said: “He was guided by a vision of the human dignity and progress that he knew people of goodwill could advance together.”

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called Mr Peres “a true giant among men” and “the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursuit of peace against all odds”.

He added: “Tragically, thus far, we have not succeeded. But from Shimon Peres we learned that we must never let go of that audacious commitment to peace, even when all around us are ready to do so.”


Who was Shimon Peres?

  • Born in 1923 in Wisniew, Poland, now Vishnyeva, Belarus
  • First elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1959
  • Served in 12 governments, including once as president and twice as prime minister
  • Seen as a hawk in his early years, when he negotiated arms deals for the fledgling nation
  • A member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory
  • But played a key part in reaching the Oslo peace accords, the first deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which said they would “strive to live in peaceful coexistence”

Mr Peres shared his Nobel Peace Prize with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was later assassinated, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At the start of his long political career, he was put in charge of personnel and arms purchases for the Haganah, the predecessor of the Israel Defense Forces.

He secured a deal with France to supply the new Israeli nation with Mirage jet fighters. He also set up Israel’s secret nuclear facility.

He was the defence minister in 1976, when Palestinian hijackers diverted a plane from Israel to Entebbe in Uganda. He oversaw the successful rescue of more than 100 hostages.

Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mr Peres later became a leading political dove. He often spoke of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.

Media captionShimon Peres in 2013: ‘Live in peace side by side’

He maintained an active public schedule into old age, mostly through his non-governmental Peres Centre for Peace, which promotes closer ties between Israel and the Palestinians.

In 2013 he said: “There is no alternative to peace. There is no sense to go to war.”

He retired from his role as president in 2014.

Mr Peres’ casket will be placed at the Knesset (parliament) on Thursday for the public to pay their final respects, media reports say.

 

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