Ezer Weizman, former President of Israel, dies aged 80

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The Independent Online

Ezer Weizman, the former President of Israel, and among the last of the elite generation of warrior-politicians who dominated the country's public life for more than half a century, died last night at the age of 80.

Ezer Weizman, the former President of Israel, and among the last of the elite generation of warrior-politicians who dominated the country's public life for more than half a century, died last night at the age of 80.

Weizman, who was the nephew of Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President, was the first to make a state visit to Britain, in February 1997 - 49 years after the establishment of Israel and the end of British mandate in Palestine. He was an RAF pilot in World War II.

A bomber pilot in the 1948 War of Independence, the key figure in developing the Israeli Airforce, and the military Chief of Operations during the six day war in 1967, he was the first Defence Minister in Menachem Begin's Likud government. That administration ended 30 years of Labour dominance after an election victory of which Weizman was widely credited as the architect.

A tall, handsome and at times outspoken man, Weizman was nevertheless difficult to fit into a political stereotype. Israel's Vice Premier Shimon Peres said last night that Weizman was unique. "In war, he showed incredible bravery, and when peace appeared on the horizon, he enlisted for it. He always searched for the original, the daring and the new. He knew how to warm the hearts of thousands."

On the one hand, with the then Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon he helped to promote the Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank which followed Likud's victory. And much later, as President, although he invited Yasser Arafat to his home in an attempt to advance the peace process, he became increasingly - and publicly - critical of the strategy pursued by Yitzhak Rabin, particularly the second Oslo accord in 1995.

On the other, he was, one of the enthusiastic architects of the rapprochement with Egypt which led to Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel in 1977 and the subsequent peace treaty with Egypt. In 1980, Weizman resigned from his post due to disagreements with Begin because he thought Israel was enacting the agreement too slowly.

He returned to politics in 1984 as the leader of a small, doveish party which subsequently merged with Labour. And he was sacked from the coalition government of Yitzhak Shamir before the 1991 Madrid conference because he had met Yasser Arafat in Vienna.

He left the presidency somewhat earlier than expected after media reports that while a minister he had accepted six figure payments from two businessmen. He spoke fluent Hebrew and English, with a smattering of Yiddish and Arabic.

¿ Jerusalem police last night launched an investigation after unidentified arsonists set fire to Shushan, a gay and lesbian bar in the city. The only gay bar in the city, it is run by Sa'ar Netanel, a left-wing councillor who has triggered outraged protests from some religious Jewish leaders and evangelical Christians by promoting the 'World Pride Parade', to be held in Jerusalem in August.

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