End of an era as the last significant figure of Israel’s founding fathers dies after suffering a massive stroke.
Israeli ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres died on Wednesday, some two weeks after suffering a major stroke.
The 93-year-old died in his sleep at around 3:00am (0000 GMT), Peres’ doctor Rafi Walden, who is also Peres’s son-in-law, told AFP news agency. Israeli media also confirmed the former Israeli president’s death.
“Our father’s legacy has always been the future. Look to tomorrow, he taught us,” said Chemi Peres, Peres’ son, in a press conference.
“Today, we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community mourns this great loss,” he added. “We share this pain together.”
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.
The Israeli foreign ministry said that US President Barack Obama, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife and current presidential hopeful Hillary, the pope and the UK’s Prince Charles are among those who will attend Peres’ funeral.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “deep personal grief” in a statement in which he called Peres “the beloved of the nation”. Netanyahu is expected to deliver a personal message later on Wednesday, and the Israeli cabinet will convene for a special mourning session.
Obama was quick to pay his respects, remembering Peres as “our dear friend” and “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,” a White House statement said.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Shimon Peres was, above all, a man of peace. My deepest condolences to his loved ones and to the people of Israel on his passing.”
However, Al Jazeera’s Middle East analyst Yehia Ghanem said that many would remember Peres as a “war criminal”, especially in light of the 1996 Qana massacre. In that Israeli attack on a southern Lebanese village, at least 106 people were killed. Peres was then prime minister.
“People who are praising him [Peres] supported Israel and all of its crimes throughout its history,” Ghanem said. “The fact he ordered this massacre in Qana was and still is considered a war crime.”
Speaking of Peres’ legacy, Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, told Al Jazeera: “This is a man who, from the very beginning, was a war criminal.”
Buttu added: “He’s somebody who believed in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, somebody who when he had positions of power made sure that Palestinian land that was occupied – not captured – was then turned over and made into Jewish Israeli settlements, which are war crimes under international law.”
Peres had been in hospital near Tel Aviv since September 13, when he was admitted feeling unwell and suffered the stroke with internal bleeding.
Israel has been on edge over the health of its last remaining founding father, who had been under sedation and respiratory support in intensive care.
Peres held nearly every major office in the country, serving twice as prime minister and also as president, a mostly ceremonial role, from 2007 to 2014.
He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo Accords, which envisioned an independent Palestinian state.
After suffering the stroke, he received an outpouring of support from across the world, including from Pope Francis, US President Obama, the Clinton family, Donald Trump, Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called him “tireless in seeking peace between Israelis and Palestinians”.
There had been signs of improvement last week.
On September 18, Peres’ office said doctors planned to gradually reduce his sedation and respiratory support to judge his response.
His personal physician Walden had said at the time that Peres had seen “very slow, moderate improvement”.
But on Tuesday, a source close to Peres said his condition had taken a downturn and he was “fighting for his life”.
In January, Peres was treated in hospital twice because of heart trouble.
In the first case, the hospital said he had suffered a “mild cardiac event” and underwent catheterisation to widen an artery.
He was rushed to hospital a second time only days later with chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.
Peres had sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.
When leaving hospital on January 19, Peres said that he was keen to get back to work.
“I’m so happy to return to work, that was the whole purpose of this operation,” he said.
Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11. He joined the Zionist movement and met David Ben-Gurion, who would become his mentor and Israel’s first prime minister.
Peres became director general of the nascent defence ministry at just 29. He was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel’s undeclared nuclear programme.