Thousands of Israelis file past coffin of former president Peres

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 29, 2016 5:43 AM

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Thousands of Israelis filed past the flag-draped coffin of Shimon Peres outside parliament on Thursday, honoring the former president and prime minister who won worldwide praise for his efforts in peace talks with the Palestinians.

U.S. President Barack Obama is among foreign dignitaries due to attend the funeral on Friday of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who died on Wednesday at 93, two weeks after a stroke.

But with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations frozen since 2014, it was unclear whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who sent a condolence letter to Peres's family, would travel to Jerusalem from nearby Ramallah for the ceremony.

The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, were not on the roster of participants issued by Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to walk past Peres's coffin during Thursday's 12-hour memorial in the parliamentary plaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin laid wreaths.

"We came to pay our respects to a wonderful man who we thought would carry on forever," said Michael Leon, a British-born bank worker. "He was a man with a great dream to bring peace to this region, the new Middle East. Sadly, we have not reached that goal yet but we still carry on with his aims."

Britain's Prince Charles, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and French President Francois Hollande were due to attend Peres's funeral in the "Great Leaders of the Nation" section of Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery.

Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with the late former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for reaching an interim peace deal in 1993, the Oslo Accords, which however never turned into a lasting treaty.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)