Israel pays respects to Shimon Peres in Knesset ceremony

Israeli leaders and the public paid their respects to Shimon Peres, one of the country's dominant political figures, in a lying-in-state ceremony outside the country's parliament.

Carried by a military guard and draped in the blue-and-white Israeli flag with the Star of David, the coffin of the former president was placed in front of the Knesset building on Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin laid wreaths by the coffin as flags above them stood at half-mast.

Peres, who died on Wednesday aged 93 two weeks after suffering a major stroke, was a dominant force in Israeli politics for more than 60 years and won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in talks with the Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords.

The ceremony was afterwards opened to the public, with thousands of people expected to pass before the coffin until late in the night ahead of a state funeral on Friday. A Knesset representative spoke of some 25,000 people having visited already by the afternoon.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who headed the administration during the Middle East peace efforts of the 1990s, was one of the first Western leaders to reach Jerusalem. He remained silent as he bowed his head during a televised visit to Peres' coffin.

Peres' death sparked a flood of tributes, with US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama saying they would remember him as "the essence of Israel itself."

The funeral at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the site of Israel's national cemetery, is set to be attended by Western leaders including Obama.

His spokesman said Thursday he admired Peres because he dedicated his life to championing the Israeli people and advocating for peace.

Obama, who will speak at the funeral, will lead a large US delegation that includes members of both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations in a sign of bipartisan support for Israel, spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Other international figures expected to attend the funeral include Britain's Prince Charles, German President Joachim Gauck, French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Some Palestinians did not mourn his passing, blaming him for the collapse of the peace process he had helped to broker along with former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is so far the only major figure from the Arab world whose attendance has been confirmed by Israeli officials. The Palestinian leader plans to attend with a small delegation, including Saeb Erekat, a key member of the negotiation team that dealt with Israel, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa was one of few Arab officials offering a reaction to Peres' death on Thursday, tweeting in English that he was a "man of war and peace."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is expected to attend the funeral.

Police have sealed off streets in the area, and some 8,000 officers were on duty for the two days of events, a spokesman said.

The tense security situation was compounded by the Islamic Hamas movement calling for a "day of rage" on Friday in the West Bank and Jerusalem in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of its latest intifada. The event was not linked to Peres' death, though the extremist group did condemn Abbas for sending a condolence letter.

King Abdullah of Jordan also sent a condolence letter to the Israeli president, recalling Peres' work for peace, according to the official Petra news agency.

Last update: Fri, 30/09/2016 - 01:46

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