Jerusalem (CNS News.com) – Current and past leaders from around the world gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to pay their respects and attend the funeral of the ninth president of Israel, Shimon Peres. Peres passed away on Monday at the age of 93 years.
The nation mourned at a wreath-laying ceremony on Thursday as Peres laid in state at the Israeli parliament. Peres, known as Israel’s “elder statesman” had been briefly hospitalized before his death and he passed away quietly and without suffering, according to public statements by his family.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Peres while he was hospitalized and described the situation as “navigating a minefield,” though details about his condition were not disclosed. Netanyahu stood silently before Peres’s casket at the parliament on Thursday as did other Israeli leaders and former President Bill Clinton.
At the annual U.N. meeting in New York Netanyahu had asked for the prayers of world leaders in a speech lauding Peres as “one of Israel's founding fathers, one of its boldest statesmen, one of its most respected leaders.”
Since his death, others have pointed to Peres’s unflinching commitment to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
“Shimon Peres was the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursuit of peace against all odds,” said Chief Rabbi Haim Mervis, the head of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
In Gaza, Hamas used the opportunity to criticize Israel and Peres.
“The Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal who caused their blood to shed,” AP quoted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying, describing Peres’ death as “the beginning of a new phase of [Israeli] weakness.”
But Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas sent condolences to the Peres family and described the former president as a “brave” partner in peace.
Throughout the week there was a flurry of activity in Jerusalem as thousands of police mobilized ahead of Peres’s memorial service and the impending arrival of numerous current and former heads of state, including Pope Francis, Britain’s Prince Charles President Obama, President Clinton, and many others.
Thousands of mourners visited Israeli parliament on Thursday, where Peres laid in state and a traditional laying of the wreath ceremony took place. Both were broadcast via a live Internet stream by the Israeli government.
Friday’s ceremony and eulogy will be held at Mount Herzl, with Presidents Obama and Clinton scheduled to deliver two of the ten planned eulogies. Others will be from Israeli political leaders, family members and friends including the writer Amos Oz.
Singer David D’Or will sing “Avinu Malkeinu,” a Jewish prayer traditionally recited during the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
After Peres passed away, Obama had ordered all American flags at the White House, across the United States, and at diplomatic missions to be flown at half-mast.
American flags have only flown at half-mast for a foreign leader half a dozen times, to mark the deaths of Nelson Mandela, Yitzhak Rabin, Pope John Paul II, King Hussein of Jordan, and Anwar Sadat.
Born in 1923, Peres served both as Israel’s prime minister and as president. In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace along with former PLO leader Yasser Arafat and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, for his part in negotiating a peace accord with Arafat. He immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1934 before the state of Israel was declared, and was a prominent figure in political and public life for decades.