Shimon Peres, former Israeli President, dead at 93

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Former Israeli president Shimon Peres has died (KTRK)

Shimon Peres, a former Israeli president and prime minister, whose life story mirrored that of the Jewish state and who was celebrated around the world as a Nobel Prize-winning visionary who pushed his country toward peace, died early Wednesday. He was 93.

News of Peres' death was met with an outpouring of tributes from around the world, with leaders praising him as a statesman committed to peace. Israel's Foreign Ministry announced that an array of global leaders and dignitaries, including President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, would attend the funeral on Friday.

Peres suffered a debilitating stroke on Sept. 13 and had remained hospitalized since then. His son, Chemi, confirmed his death Wednesday morning to reporters gathered at the hospital where Peres had been treated. Peres was sedated and on a respirator during most of his hospitalization.

"Our father's legacy has always been to look to tomorrow," he said. "We were privileged to be part of his private family, but today we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community share this great loss. We share this pain together."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Peres as a "man of vision" and convened his Cabinet for a special meeting.

"As a man of security, he fortified Israel's strength in many ways, some of which even today are still unknown," he said. "As a man of peace, he worked until his final days toward reconciling with our neighbors for a better future for our children."

Officials said that Peres' body would lie in state at the Knesset, or parliament, on Thursday to allow the public to pay final respects. His funeral was set for Friday at Mount Herzl, the country's national cemetery in Jerusalem. Yona Bartal, a former personal aide to Peres, said the arrangements were in line with his wishes.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said Obama, the Clintons, Britain's Prince Charles, French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were among those who were expected. Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the list was expected to grow.

Obama, who awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, eulogized Peres as a man who represented "the essence of Israel itself."

"There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves. My friend Shimon was one of those people," he said.

Shimon Peres' son-in-law, Dr. Rafi Walden, said the family had spoken to Obama overnight and was "very moved." Walden, who was also Peres' personal physician, said he died overnight "without suffering."

Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said they "lost a true and treasured friend." Clinton was president when Peres negotiated a historic interim peace agreement with the Palestinians in 1993. Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush also issued statements of mourning.

While Western leaders eulogized Peres, the Palestinians remained conspicuously silent. On one hand, the Palestinians appreciated Peres' commitment to peace. But he was also controversial for overseeing a war in Lebanon while he was prime minister in 1996 in which dozens of civilians were killed in an Israeli artillery strike. Peres, like other Israeli leaders, also allowed settlement construction to take place during his years in leadership positions.

At home, Peres was the elder statesman of Israeli politics, one of the country's most admired leaders and the last surviving link to its founding fathers.

In an unprecedented seven-decade political career, Peres filled nearly every position in Israeli public life and was credited with leading the country through some of its most defining moments, from creating what is believed to be a nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, to disentangling its troops from Lebanon and rescuing its economy from triple-digit inflation in the 1980s, to guiding a skeptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

Shimon Perski was born on Aug. 2, 1923, in Vishneva, then part of Poland. He moved to pre-state Palestine in 1934 with his immediate family. His grandfather and other relatives stayed behind and perished in the Holocaust. Rising quickly through Labor Party ranks, he became a top aide to Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister and a man Peres once called "the greatest Jew of our time."

A protege of Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, he led the Defense Ministry in his 20s and spearheaded the development of Israel's nuclear program.

He was first elected to parliament in 1959 and later held every major Cabinet post - including defense, finance and foreign affairs - and served three brief stints as prime minister. His key role in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and revered status as Israel's then most recognizable figure abroad.

And yet, for much of his political career he could not parlay his international prestige into success in Israeli politics, where he was branded by many as both a utopian dreamer and political schemer. He suffered a string of electoral defeats: competing in five general elections seeking the prime minister's spot, he lost four and tied one.

He finally secured the public adoration that had long eluded him when he was chosen by parliament to a seven-year term as Israel's ceremonial president in 2007, taking the role of elder statesman.

Peres was celebrated by doves and vilified by hawks for advocating far-reaching Israeli compromises for peace even before he negotiated the first interim accord with the Palestinians in 1993 that set into motion a partition plan that gave them limited self-rule. That was followed by a peace accord with neighboring Jordan.

But after a fateful six-month period in 1995-96 that included Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings and Peres' own election loss to the more conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, the prospects for peace began to evaporate.

Relegated to the political wilderness, he created his non-governmental Peres Center for Peace that raised funds for cooperation and development projects involving Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations. He returned to it at age 91 when he completed his term as president.

Despite continued waves of violence that pushed the Israeli political map to the right, the concept of a Palestinian state next to Israel became mainstream Israeli policy many years after Peres advocated it.
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