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Former Israel president Peres dies amid adulation and accusation

Shimon Peres was praised by world leaders for his role in the peace process but accused by Palestinians of being responsible for a massacre
Peres was hospitalized following a stroke two weeks ago (AFP)

Israeli ex-president Shimon Peres died on Wednesday, some two weeks after suffering a major stroke, triggering an outpouring of obituaries that ranged from praise for his record to accusations of war crimes.

The 93-year-old died in his sleep at about 3am local time, Rafi Walden, who is also Peres's son-in-law, told AFP.

He had been surrounded by family members, a source close to Peres told AFP. 

His family held a press conference later in the morning, praising Peres's tireless work ethic and what they called his devotion to peace.

"He had no interest other than serving the people of Israel," said his son Chemi, his eyes moist as he read a letter on behalf of the family at the hospital.

US President Barack Obama immediately hailed Peres as a friend who "never gave up on the possibility of peace."

"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," Obama said in a statement.

"My friend Shimon was one of those people."

Former US president Bill Clinton, who helped usher in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, said: "The Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation.

"I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations."

But some Palestinians have a different image of a man seen as responsible for the 1996 Qana massacre, when 106 people were killed in an Israeli attack on a village in south Lebanon – Peres was Israel’s prime minister at the time.

“People who are praising him [Peres] supported Israel and all of its crimes throughout its history,” Al Jazeera’s Yehia Ghanem told the Doha-based broadcaster.

“The fact he ordered this massacre in Qana was and still is considered a war crime.”

Former Palestinian peace negotiator Diana Buttu told Al Jazeera that Peres was “from the very beginning a war criminal”.

“He’s somebody who believed in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” she said. “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.”

In Israeli on Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his "profound sadness" at Peres’ death.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the head of Peres's Labor Party, said he will be "forever remembered as an icon of Israel's history."

Seven decades in politics

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.

Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11.

He joined the Zionist project 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.

Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, he was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel's undeclared nuclear programme.

Active in old age

Peres had been in hospital near Tel Aviv since 13 September, when he was admitted feeling unwell and suffered the stroke with internal bleeding. He had been under sedation and on respiratory support in intensive care.

In January, Peres was hospitalised twice because of heart trouble.

Peres had sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.

In March, he met British supermodel Naomi Campbell at his Peres Center for Peace during an event linked to International Women's Day. On the same day, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.

Peres once confided that the secret to his longevity was daily exercise, eating little and drinking one or two glasses of good wine.

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