Israel begins paying last respects to Peres

Israel begins paying last respects to Peres

Israeli leaders and crowds of mourners gathered outside parliament on Thursday to pay last respects to ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, whose body was lying in state.

Peres last respects
Photo from video

A major security operation was being put in place ahead of Friday's funeral, which is to be attended by leaders from across the world, including US President Barack Obama and Britain's Prince Charles.

In a career spanning seven decades, Peres held nearly every major office, serving twice as prime minister and as president, a mainly 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.

His death on Wednesday at age 93 after suffering a major stroke triggered an outpouring of grief and tributes that hailed Peres's transformation from hawk to fervent peace advocate.

On Thursday morning, a solemn ceremony saw President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition leader Isaac Herzog lay wreaths beside Peres's flag-draped coffin at a plaza outside parliament.

The ceremony was held in silence, with none of the leaders speaking.

Afterwards, hundreds of mourners began making their way into the grounds of parliament to view the coffin after passing through security checks.

Many took photographs as they approached. A cordon kept them around five metres (yards) from the coffin.

"It's important that my children understand and respect what this man did, his values, his love for Israel, his want for peace," said Marielle Halimi, who arrived with her three children and waited for more than an hour to enter before leaving in tears.

'Unprecedented scale'

Peres's body is to lie in state until 9:00 pm (1800 GMT), with thousands expected to pay tribute.

Israel's blue and white flag has been lowered to half-mast around the world.

Some 7,000 police have been deployed for Thursday and Friday's commemorations and roads were being closed in Jerusalem.

"We are dealing with an operation on an unprecedented scale," said police chief Roni Alsheikh.

Security had already been tightened ahead of major Jewish holidays set to begin next week.

The last time such an event was held in Israel was the funeral for Rabin, Peres's rival in the Labour party but partner in negotiating the Oslo accords.

Peres will be buried in Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery next to Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo accords.

Obama led world leaders in paying tribute to Peres, calling him a friend who "never gave up on the possibility of peace".

He ordered US flags flown at half-staff.

Besides Obama and Prince Charles, other leaders due to attend Friday's funeral include former US president Bill Clinton, French President Francois Hollande and Spain's King Felipe VI.

But while many in the West and within Israel hailed Peres as a peacemaker, Palestinians and those from Arab nations were critical.

They have cited his involvement in successive Arab-Israeli wars and the occupation of Palestinian territory.

He was also prime minister in 1996 when more than 100 civilians were killed while sheltering at a UN peacekeepers' base in the Lebanese village of Qana fired upon by Israel.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called Peres a "brave" partner for peace following his death, but many others labelled him a "war criminal."

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