Israel mourns death of Peres

President Shimon Peres. Picture: Supplied
President Shimon Peres. Picture: Supplied

Nobel winner ‘changed course of history’

Former Israeli president and elder statesman Shimon Peres, a joint winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize and an influential figure in Israeli politics for 70 years, died in hospital yesterday, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke.

A convinced campaigner for Middle East peace who remained energetic until his final days, Peres, 93, was mourned by world leaders and praised for his tireless engagement.

US President Barack Obama said: “A light has gone out. “There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves.”

“My friend Shimon was one of those people.”

Despite decades of rivalry with Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a right-winger who defeated the then-Labour Party leader in a 1996 election, praised him as a stalwart of the centre-left and a visionary.

“There were many things we agreed upon, and the number grew as the years passed. But we had disagreements, a natural part of democratic life,” Netanyahu said after holding a minute’s silence at a special cabinet meeting.

“Shimon won international recognition that spanned the globe. “World leaders wanted to be in his proximity and respected him. “Along with us, many of them will accompany him on his last journey to eternal rest in the soil of Jerusalem.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had sent a condolence letter to the family expressing his sadness and regret and praising Peres’s intensive efforts to reach out for a lasting peace . . . “until the last days”.

It was not clear if he would attend Peres’s funeral, which will take place tomorrow at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, in a section dedicated to Great Leaders of the Nation.

In the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the enclave’s Hamas Islamist rulers, said: “The Palestinian people are happy over the departure of this criminal, who was involved in many crimes and in the bloodshed of the Palestinian people.”

Obama, Britain’s Prince Charles and former US president Bill Clinton were among those expected to attend, Israeli radio reported, although Israel’s Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the attendance list.

French President Francois Hollande also confirmed he would attend, alongside his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Polish-born Peres, whose family moved to then British-ruled Palestine in the 1930s, was part of almost every major political development in Israel from its founding in 1948.

He shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with late former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for reaching an interim peace deal in 1993.

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