Shimon Peres ‘carried a whole nation on the wings of imagination’

Israel’s last surviving founding father eulogised as a ‘political giant’ ahead of funeral

The body of Shimon Peres will lie in state at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Thursday ahead of Friday's funeral in Jerusalem, which will be attended by dozens of world leaders.

On Thursday the public will have a chance to bid farewell to Israel’s elder statesman, the last of the country’s founding fathers, who died in a Tel Aviv hospital on Wednesday morning, two weeks after suffering a stroke.

The Israeli cabinet held a special meeting on Wednesday to mourn the passing of Mr Peres (93), observing a minute's silence.

The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said that this was Israel's first day without Shimon Peres.


“Shimon devoted his life to our nation and to the pursuit of peace,” Mr Netanyahu said. “He set his gaze on the future. He did so much to protect our people. He worked to his last days for peace and a better future for all. As Israel’s president, Shimon did so much to unite the nation. And the nation loved him for it.”

President Reuven Rivlin eulogised his predecessor, saying Mr Peres was "young at heart and had an unwavering belief in the ability to achieve one's goals.

"Peres never stopped creating and dreaming, always in the service of the state of Israel and its people," he said. "There is not a chapter in our history which Shimon did not write or play a part. As one man, he carried a whole nation on the wings of imagination, on the wings of vision."

Buried near Rabin

Friday’s funeral will be held at the Great Leaders of the Nation plot at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery. Mr Peres will be buried alongside former prime minister

Yitzhak Rabin

, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995 after making peace with the Palestinians.

Friday’s ceremony will mark the largest gathering of foreign dignitaries in Israel since the Rabin funeral.

Among those attending will be US president Barack Obama, secretary of state John Kerry and former president Bill Clinton; Britain's Prince Charles and former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair; French president François Hollande and German president Joachim Gauck.

Israel's foreign ministry said officials from Egypt and Jordan are also expected to attend.

Mr Obama eulogised Mr 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,” he said. “My friend Shimon was one of those people.”

Foremost statesman

Tony Blair said he was sadder than words can express.

“This is a man who was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply. He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend.”

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas sent his condolences to the Peres family, describing him as a partner in peace. He noted the efforts Mr Peres invested in forging a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 until the final moments of his life.

Hamas, in contrast, expressed joy over the death of Mr Peres.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, said "the Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal who caused their blood to shed".