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Former Israeli president Shimon Peres dies aged 93

Published 28/09/2016

Shimon Peres pictured in 2013 - media in Israel are reporting that the the former president has died following a stroke (AP)
Shimon Peres pictured in 2013 - media in Israel are reporting that the the former president has died following a stroke (AP)

Shimon Peres, the Israeli politician who won the Nobel Peace Prize during his unprecedented seven-decade career, has died aged 93.

Mr Peres suffered a major stroke two weeks ago that led to bleeding in his brain. He was sedated and on a respirator during most of his time in hospital, as his condition worsened.

His son, Chemi, confirmed his death to reporters gathered at the hospital.

He said: "Today with deep sorrow we bid farewell to our beloved father, the ninth president of Israel.

"Our father's legacy has always been to look to tomorrow. We were privileged to be part of his private family, but today we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community share this great loss. We share this pain together."

A former aide to Mr Peres said his body will lie in state at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Thursday, before a state funeral at the country's national cemetery in Jerusalem on Friday.

Yona Bartal, his former aide, told Israel's Channel 10 TV that the plans were in line with the wishes of Mr Peres.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a special Cabinet meeting on Wednesday following the death, and a special committee will then begin preparing the arrangements for the funeral. Many international dignitaries and world leaders are expected to attend.

Mr Peres was the elder statesman of Israeli politics, a former president and prime minister who was one of the country's most admired leaders and the last surviving link to its founding fathers.

He was credited with leading the country through some of its most defining moments, from creating its nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, to withdrawing its troops from Lebanon and guiding a sceptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

A protege of Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, he led the defence ministry in his 20s and spearheaded the development of Israel's nuclear programme.

He was first elected to parliament in 1959 and later held every major cabinet post - including defence, finance and foreign affairs - and served three brief stints as prime minister.

His key role in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and revered status as Israel's most recognisable figure abroad.

And yet, for much of his political career he could not transfer his international prestige into success in Israeli politics, where he was branded by many as both a utopian dreamer and political schemer.

His smart appearance and swept-back grey hair seemed to separate him from his more informal countrymen, and he suffered a string of electoral defeats - competing in five general elections seeking to be prime minister, he lost four and tied one.

He finally secured the public adoration that had long eluded him when he was chosen by parliament for a seven-year term as Israel's ceremonial president in 2007, taking the role of elder statesman.

Mr Peres was celebrated by doves and vilified by hawks for advocating far-reaching Israeli compromises for peace even before he negotiated the first interim accord with the Palestinians in 1993 that set into motion a partition plan that gave them limited self-rule.

That was followed by a peace deal with neighbouring Jordan. But after a fateful six-month period in 1995-96 that included Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings and his own election loss to the more conservative Mr Netanyahu, the prospects for peace began to evaporate.

Relegated to the political wilderness, he created the Peres Centre for Peace to raise funds for co-operation and development projects involving Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations. He returned to it aged 91 when he completed his term as president.

Shimon Perski was born on August 2 1923, in Vishneva, then part of Poland. He moved to pre-state Palestine in 1934 with his immediate family. Her grandfather and other relatives stayed behind and perished in the Holocaust.

Rising quickly through Labor Party ranks, he became a senior aide to Mr Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister and a man Mr Peres once called "the greatest Jew of our time".

At 29, he was the youngest person to serve as director of Israel's defence ministry, and is credited with arming Israel's military almost from scratch. Yet throughout his political career, he suffered from the fact that he never wore an army uniform or fought in a war.

Despite continued waves of violence that pushed the Israeli political map to the right, the concept of a Palestinian state next to Israel became mainstream Israeli policy many years after Mr Peres advocated it.

Shunted aside during the 1999 election campaign, won by party colleague Ehud Barak, Mr Peres rejected advice to retire, assuming the newly created and loosely defined cabinet post of minister for regional co-operation.

In 2000, Mr Peres absorbed another resounding political setback, losing an election in the parliament for the post of president to Likud Party backbencher Moshe Katsav, who was later convicted and imprisoned for rape.

Even so, Mr Peres refused to quit. In 2001, aged 77, he took the post of foreign minister in the government of national unity set up by Ariel Sharon, serving for 20 months before Labor withdrew from the coalition.

Then he followed Mr Sharon into a new party, Kadima, serving as vice-premier under Mr Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, before assuming the presidency.

AP

Israel's parliament has lowered its flags to half-staff and is preparing to display the coffin of the former president Shimon.

Knesset spokesman Yotam Yakir said an honour guard will accompany parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein as the flags are lowered.

Mr Peres's body will lay in state in front of the Knesset building on Thursday.

Israeli officials are feverishly preparing security arrangements and logistics to host an array of world figures arriving in Israel for the funeral on Friday.

AP

Meanwhile, t he Palestinian president has expressed his sadness over the death of Mr Peres.

In a statement, Mahmoud Abbas said he has sent a condolence letter to the Peres family expressing "sorrow and sympathy".

He called Mr Peres a partner in reaching a "peace of the brave" with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The three men shared the 1994 Nobel Peace prize for reaching the Oslo interim peace accord.

President Abbas said Mr Peres "exerted persistent efforts to reach a just peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life".

AP

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