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Former Israeli PM Shamir dies at 96

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who clung throughout his life to the belief that Israel should hang on to territory and never trust an Arab regime, has died. He was 96.

Israeli media said Mr Shamir had suffered from Alzheimer's for years and died after a long illness on Saturday at a nursing home in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

In his younger days, Mr Shamir served as a Jewish underground leader who fought the British as well as Arab militias before Israel's creation in 1948. Later, he hunted Nazi scientists as a Mossad agent before eventually becoming Israel's seventh prime minister.

His time in office was eventful, marked by the massive airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the Palestinian uprising and the 1991 Gulf war, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

Israelis across the political spectrum paid tribute to the former leader on Saturday.

"Yitzhak Shamir was a brave warrior before and after the founding of the state of Israel," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, a long-time political opponent of Shamir. "He was loyal to his views, a great patriot and a true lover of Israel who served his country with integrity and unending commitment. May his memory be blessed."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had "led Israel with a deep loyalty to the nation and to the land and to the eternal values of the Jewish people."

Mr Shamir served as premier for seven years, from 1983-84 and 1986-92, leading his party to election victories twice, despite lacking much of the outward charisma that characterises many modern politicians.

Barely more than 5ft tall and built like a block of granite, he projected an image of uncompromising solidity during the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the West Bank and Gaza that demanded an end to Israeli occupation.

Defeated in the 1992 election, Mr Shamir stepped down as head of the Likud party and watched from the sidelines as his successor, Yitzhak Rabin, negotiated interim land-for-peace agreements with the Palestinians. The agreements, including Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's recognition of Israel, did nothing to ease his suspicion.

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