Bill Clinton in Israel to pay last respects to Peres

Jerusalem, September 29

Israeli leaders, former US president Bill Clinton and crowds of mourners gathered outside parliament today to pay last respects to Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, whose body was lying in state.

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 rare visit to Jerusalem, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was also planning to attend, Palestinian officials told AFP.

Peres’s death yesterday at age 93 after suffering a major stroke triggered an outpouring of grief and tributes that hailed the Israeli ex-president’s transformation from hawk to fervent peace advocate.

This 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.

Later in the day, Clinton arrived in Israel and travelled directly to view Peres’s coffin, appearing moved as he stood silently before it.

Clinton had helped usher in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, which resulted in the Nobel prize for Peres.

The plaza was opened to the public following the visit by the Israeli leaders, and thousands of mourners made their way into the grounds after passing through stringent security checks.

Many took photographs as they approached. A cordon kept them around five metres 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.

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.

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 today’s and tomorrow’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.