Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a founding father of the country celebrated around the world as a visionary for peace, has died at the age of 93.
The Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv announced Mr Peres’s death at 3.40am Wednesday morning, according to the official government Israel New Agency.
US President Barack Obama led tributes to the Israeli statesman, whom he described as a friend and the “essence of Israel itself,” saying: “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever”.
Prime Minister Theresa May joined Mr Obama in calling Mr Peres a “courageous and visionary statesman” who “worked relentlessly for peace and never lost hope that this would one day be achievable”.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said Mr Peres was “a partner in making the peace of the brave”, also praising his devotion to peace efforts.
Mr Peres, who evolved during his 66-year-long career in politics to become an indefatigable campaigner for Middle East peace, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for brokering the historic Oslo interim peace accords with the Palestinian leadership. He continued to work on programmes promoting Israeli-Arab co-existence after he retired from politics in 2014.
Mr Peres was hospitalised following a stroke two weeks ago which led to bleeding in his brain. He was sedated and on life support before he condition suddenly worsened on Wednesday. The Peres family physician said the statesman passed away without suffering.
Bill Clinton, who was US president when Mr Peres, then foreign minister, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993 during the Oslo agreement talks, said in a joint statement with wife and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: “I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”
Then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin, Mr Arafat and Mr Peres jointly shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
“He was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict, economic and social empowerment not anger and frustration, and a nation, a region, and a world enhanced by caring and sharing, not torn asunder by the illusions of permanent dominance and perfect truth,” the Clintons’s statement said.
“His critics called him a dreamer. That he was – a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end. Thank goodness. Let those of us who loved him and love his nation keep his dream alive.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Mr Peres despite their deep ideological differences, expressing “deep personal grief at the passing of the beloved of the nation”.
And the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, described him as a “true giant amongst men”.
“There will be countless tributes to Shimon Peres over the coming days, but I fear that few, if any, will adequately capture the palpable sense of collective grief felt across the world, nor do justice to the memory of a true giant amongst men,” Mr Mirvis said.
“It is true that Shimon Peres was a great statesman. He was the noblest of soldiers, a born leader, a uniquely talented diplomat, an inspiring speaker and a relentless campaigner. But, more significantly than any of those things, Shimon Peres was the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursuit of peace against all odds.”
The Clintons and many other world leaders and dignitaries are expected to attend Mr Peres’s funeral, which Israeli media said would be held on Friday. Mr Peres will lie in state in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, as per his wishes, before a state funeral at the country’s national cemetery in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Cabinet would be convened for a special session later on Wednesday.
Mr Peres had been involved in Israeli politics for seven decades. He served seven terms as Israel’s president until his 2014 retirement, and served in the majority of Cabinet positions throughout his career – including three terms as Prime Minister. He founded the Peres Centre for Peace, which promoted harmony between Israelis and Palestinians, continuing his work at the centre right up until his death.