Israeli statesman Shimon Peres dies at 93, nation begins to mourn

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres died in hospital, aged 93, his family confirmed Wednesday, two weeks after the Nobel peace laureate suffered a major stroke.

His death sparked a flood of tributes from his fellow countrymen and world leaders.

A dominant force in Israeli politics for more than 60 years, Peres held almost every major position in the country's government, including prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister.

He was the architect of the country's nuclear programme and a top negotiator in the peace process with the Palestinian leading to the Oslo Accords, though the deal ultimately failed to deliver a Palestinians state or bring an end to violence.

"My father used to say: You are only as great as the cause you serve," his son said at a press conference at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv. "He had no other purpose but serving the people of Israel."

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former US president Bill Clinton described Peres as a "genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict."

US President Barack Obama said that he and First Lady Michelle Obama would remember him as "the essence of Israel itself."

Israeli Foreign Ministry speaker Emmanuel Nahshon corrected the initial guest list of world leaders expected at Peres' funeral on Friday, saying that Pope Francis would not be able to attend. The announced attendance of Obama and Hillary Clinton was also unclear.

Pope Francis, Britain's Prince Charles and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would attend, while reports indicated former British prime minister Tony Blair and French President Francois Hollande would fly in for the Jerusalem funeral.

Peres was remembered differently by many Palestinians who held him responsible for the collapse of the peace process he had brokered along with former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, earning them all the Nobel in 1994.

"He made the word peace devoid of all meaning, flipping it on its head," Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, told dpa.

"His rhetoric was peace with the Arab world, but we get to dictate the terms and conditions," she said.

Buttu noted his role in building settlements on the West Bank and that Israel bombed a UN compound in Lebanon in 1996, killing more than 100 civilians, when he was premier. She was also critical of his policy to maintain secrecy over Israel's nuclear weapons.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "expressed his sorrow" on the death of Peres, the official Wafa news agency reported, but it remained unclear if Abbas was planning to attend his funeral.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, described Peres as a "criminal" who helped establish the occupation of Palestinian land.

Peres is to be laid out in state on Thursday in the Knesset, with a burial in Jerusalem the next day. Preparations for the event were already under way at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the site of Israel's national cemetery.

Despite his long tenure in politics, Peres was infamous for his failures at the ballot box, which started after he led the Labour party to its first ever electoral defeat in 1977.

"He was not a great politician," Michael Bar Zohar, Peres' biographer, said in a radio interview on Wednesday. "He never owned up to mistakes."

It was in his presidential years that he began to take on a more grandfatherly role in the Israeli political sphere, with some of his more controversial periods being brushed aside.

Peres was taken to a hospital near Tel Aviv on September 13 when he complained of a headache after a one-hour speech. Once there he suffered a stroke in the right side of his brain.

Last update: Wed, 28/09/2016 - 17:33
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