World leaders congregate on Israel for Shimon Peres funeral

By www.primenewsghana.com
Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres

World leaders have hailed the vision of the late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, as he is laid to rest three days after he died at the age of 93.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as "a great man of the world", as he led the eulogies.

A large number of foreign dignitaries, including Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, are attending the state funeral in Jerusalem.

A security crackdown ahead of the ceremony led to several arrests.

In an emotional address, Mr Netanyahu said that while Israel and the world grieves for Mr Peres there was hope in his legacy.

"Shimon lived a life of purpose," he told the dozens of foreign dignitaries gathered at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery.

"He soared to incredible heights. He swept so many with his vision and his hope. He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world."

'Biggest dreamer'

Former US President Bill Clinton, who helped negotiate the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s that led to a Nobel Peace Prize for Shimon Peres, said he was Israel's "biggest dreamer".

"He imagined all the things the rest of us could do. He started life as Israel's brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.''

US President Barack Obama is also among the speakers at the ceremony, along with Mr Peres' three children.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas led a delegation of senior Palestinian officials in his first visit to Israel since 2010.

As a negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), he was one of the people who signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993, for which Mr Peres won a Nobel Peace Prize the year after, along with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

A senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press news agency that Mr Abbas wanted to "send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres".

But a spokesman for Hamas, the more hardline Palestinian group which runs Gaza, called on Mr Abbas to "retract his decision to participate in the funeral of the criminal Shimon Peres".

Mr Peres' reputation in the region is complicated by the 1996 shelling of Qana in southern Lebanon that killed more than 100 people who were sheltering in a UN compound.

It happened when, as prime minister, he ordered an offensive against a wave of rocket fire by the militant Hezbollah movement.

He later said it was a "bitter surprise" to find that several hundred people were in the camp at the time.

Security operation

Earlier on Friday, Mr Peres' coffin was escorted by a military honour guard from the parliament building in Jerusalem to Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetery, where he will be laid to rest alongside many of the country's former leaders.

Jordan and Egypt - the only two Arab countries to have signed peace deals with Israel - have both sent official representatives to the ceremony.

The body of Mr Peres had been lying in state outside parliament in Jerusalem since Thursday.

Israeli police said 8,000 officers have been deployed for the security operation as thousands of people were expected to attend the funeral.

Israeli police chief Roni Alsheikh said it was "an operation on an unprecedented scale".

From the UK, Prince Charles, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and former Prime Minister Tony Blair are attending.

The funeral was expected to be the largest such event in Israel since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.

Mr Peres suffered a stroke two weeks ago and died on Wednesday, aged 93, in a hospital near Tel Aviv.

Other world dignitaries who are attending include:

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada
Donald Tusk, President, European Council
Francois Hollande, President, France
Joachim Gauck, President, Germany
Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister, Italy
Gen Nakatani, former Defence Minister, Japan
Jawad Anani, senior minister, Jordan
Enrique Pena Nieto, President, Mexico
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General, Nato
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, the Netherlands
Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, Russia
King Felipe VI, Spain
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

Who was Shimon Peres?

Born in 1923 in Wisniew, Poland, now Vishnyeva, Belarus
First elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1959
Served in 12 governments, including once as president and twice as prime minister
Seen as a hawk in his early years, when he negotiated arms deals for the fledgling nation
In 1996 he ordered the so-called Operation Grapes of Wrath operation against Beirut in retaliation for Lebanese Hezbollah's escalated rocket fire on northern Israel. The bombing campaign killed and injured hundreds of civilians
A member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied territory, but came to view their future as negotiable
Played a key part in reaching the Oslo peace accords, the first deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which said they would "strive to live in peaceful coexistence"

bbc.com