Leaders laud Peres at Jerusalem funeral


World leaders have hailed the vision of the late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, as he is laid to rest three days after he died at the age of 93.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as “a great man of the world”, as he led the eulogies.

US President Barack Obama said the presence of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the funeral was a reminder of the “unfinished business of peace”.

Mr Abbas was among dozens of foreign dignitaries attending in Jerusalem.

Security was intensified ahead of the ceremony, with several people arrested.

Delivering an emotional address, Mr Netanyahu said that while Israel and the world grieves for Mr Peres there was hope in his legacy.

“Shimon lived a life of purpose,” he told the dozens of world leaders and representatives gathered at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.

“He soared to incredible heights. He swept so many with his vision and his hope. He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world.”

‘Biggest dreamer’

Former US President Bill Clinton, who helped negotiate the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s that led to a Nobel Peace Prize for Shimon Peres, said he was Israel’s “biggest dreamer”.

“He imagined all the things the rest of us could do. He started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the eulogies on Friday
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the eulogies on Friday

US President Barack Obama closed the eulogies, comparing Mr Peres to “some of the other giants of the 20th Century that I’ve had the honour to meet, like Nelson Mandela and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth”.

Mr Peres, he said, believed in equality for Palestinians.

“Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, he insisted that as human beings Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self determination.”

He also mentioned Mr Abbas, who was seen shaking hands and speaking briefly with Mr Netanyahu. The last substantial public meeting between the two leaders was in 2010, with peace efforts completely suspended since April 2014.

As a negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Mr Abbas was one of the people who signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993, for which Mr Peres won a Nobel Peace Prize the year after, along with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

A senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press news agency that Mr Abbas wanted to “send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres”.

But a spokesman for Hamas, the more hardline Palestinian group which runs Gaza, called on Mr Abbas to “retract his decision to participate in the funeral of the criminal Shimon Peres”.

Mr Peres’ reputation in the region is complicated by the 1996 shelling of Qana in southern Lebanon that killed more than 100 people who were sheltering in a UN compound.

It happened when, as prime minister, he ordered an offensive against a wave of rocket fire by the militant Hezbollah movement.

He later said it was a “bitter surprise” to find that several hundred people were in the camp at the time.

Security operation

Earlier on Friday, Mr Peres’ coffin was escorted by a military honour guard from the parliament building in Jerusalem to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, where he will be laid to rest alongside many of the country’s former leaders.

Jordan and Egypt – the only two Arab countries to have signed peace deals with Israel – have both sent official representatives to the ceremony.

Leaders from around the world have paid their respects, including Barack Obama
Leaders from around the world have paid their respects, including Barack Obama
Former US President Bill Clinton helped usher in the Oslo peace accords which won a Nobel Peace Prize for Mr Peres
Former US President Bill Clinton helped usher in the Oslo peace accords which won a Nobel Peace Prize for Mr Peres

The body of Mr Peres had been lying in state outside parliament in Jerusalem since Thursday.

Israeli police said 8,000 officers have been deployed for the security operation as thousands of people were expected to attend the funeral.

From the UK, Prince Charles, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and former Prime Minister Tony Blair were also attending.

The funeral was expected to be the largest such event in Israel since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.

Mr Peres suffered a stroke two weeks ago and died on Wednesday, aged 93, in a hospital near Tel Aviv.

Other world dignitaries who are attending include:

  • Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia
  • Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada
  • Donald Tusk, President, European Council
  • Francois Hollande, President, France
  • Joachim Gauck, President, Germany
  • Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister, Italy
  • Gen Nakatani, former Defence Minister, Japan
  • Jawad Anani, senior minister, Jordan
  • Enrique Pena Nieto, President, Mexico
  • Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General, Nato
  • Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, the Netherlands
  • Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, Russia
  • King Felipe VI, Spain
  • Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

Who was Shimon Peres?

  • Born in 1923 in Wisniew, Poland, now Vishnyeva, Belarus
  • First elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1959
  • Served in 12 governments, including once as president and twice as prime minister
  • Seen as a hawk in his early years, when he negotiated arms deals for the fledgling nation
  • In 1996 he ordered the so-called Operation Grapes of Wrath operation against Beirut in retaliation for Lebanese Hezbollah’s escalated rocket fire on northern Israel. The bombing campaign killed and injured hundreds of civilians
  • A member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied territory, but came to view their future as negotiable
  • Played a key part in reaching the Oslo peace accords, the first deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which said they would “strive to live in peaceful coexistence”

Source: BBC

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