Middle East

Israelis pay respects as former president Peres lies in state in parliament

Erics Interview with the Israeli leader


Hundreds of Israelis, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, have paid their respects to Israel's ninth President Shimon Peres as his body lay in state at the country's parliament on Thursday.

Peres died Wednesday from complications following a stroke. He was 93.

Scores of world leaders are expected to attend Peres' state funeral in Jerusalem on Friday, including President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and French President Francois Hollande. It is expected to be the largest such gathering in Israel since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.

A senior Palestinian official told The Associated Press that President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to attend the funeral on Friday. The official says 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." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to the media.

More than 60 private planes are expected to arrive ahead of the ceremony.

Clinton landed in Israel Thursday morning. He arrived on the private jet of Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, according to a spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority. Saban is a major donor to the Democratic party and to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Peres' office said Thursday Clinton will go directly to Israel's parliament, where Israelis were lining up at Peres' casket, which is draped in an Israeli flag. Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu and Rivlin laid wreaths beside the casket.

Clinton was president when Peres helped negotiate a historic interim peace agreement with the Palestinians in 1993. The following year, Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have said they lost "a true and treasured friend" in Peres.

An adviser to Morocco's king will attend Peres' funeral, according to Israel's foreign ministry.

Over Peres' seven-decade political career, he transformed from a hawk to a Nobel Prize-winning advocate of reconciliation with the Palestinians. As Israel's president, he cultivated admiration at home and abroad for his youthful optimism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.