JERUSALEM: World leaders bid farewell to Israeli elder statesman and Nobel Peace laureate Shimon Peres at his funeral in Jerusalem Friday, with US President Barack Obama hailing him as a giant of the 20th century, reports AFP.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was among the mourners at the city’s Mount Herzl national cemetery and was seated in the front row, reportedly at the request of Peres’s family.
Abbas knew Peres well and negotiated with him. In an extremely rare move, he shook hands and spoke briefly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon arrival. Security forces were on high alert, with roads closed and thousands of officers deployed.
Some 70 countries were represented, with the range of leaders illustrating the respect Peres gained over the years in his transformation from hawk to committed peace advocate.
“In many ways he reminded me of some other giants of the 20th century that I had the honour to meet: men like Nelson Mandela, women like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” said Obama, who wore a black Jewish skullcap.
Peres’s death on Wednesday at the age of 93 drew tributes from around the world for Israel’s last remaining founding father.
An estimated 50,000 people filed past his coffin as it lay in state outside parliament in Jerusalem throughout the day on Thursday.
Former US president Bill Clinton was among those who paid their last respects there, appearing moved as he stood in silence before the coffin.
Clinton had helped usher in the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, which resulted in the Nobel prize for Peres.
He also spoke at the funeral, giving a warm eulogy in which he said Peres’s “critics often claimed he was a naive, overly optimistic dreamer. They were only wrong about the naive part.”