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JERUSALEM -- Israelis awoke Wednesday to news that Shimon Peres, one of the founders of the state of Israel, had died of complications from a massive stroke. Immediately -- on TV shows and in coffee shops -- they began to debate his long and complex legacy as tributes poured in from abroad.

The 93-year-old former prime minister, Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner died at a Tel Aviv hospital surrounded by his family before dawn Wednesday.

Peres arrived in British Palestine as a young boy. He began his career with a focus on security and defense, helping turn Israel into a nuclear power, only to become a voice for peace, pushing until the very end for peace with the Palestinians.

At Sheba Medical Center, his son Chemi Peres thanked those around the world who offered support and prayers since Peres' stroke earlier this month.

"The loss we feel today belongs to all of Israel, we all share this pain," Chemi Peres said.

Rafi Walden, Peres' personal physician and son-in-law, said Peres was in robust health until being felled by the stroke Sept. 13. The family said Peres wanted any useful organs donated for transplant.

Walden said President Barack Obama called the family and spoke with Peres' daughter to express his condolences.

Israel officials scrambled to finalize funeral arrangements. A former top aide to Peres said it was likely that his body will lie in state today at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, when the public will be allowed to pay its respects. Then on Friday, his remains will be moved by procession to nearby Mount Herzl for burial.

Abroad, Peres is best known as Israel's elder statesman, a leader hailed for his optimism, vigor and pursuit of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who themselves seek an end to the almost 50-year military occupation and a sovereign state.

At home, Peres was most respected in his later years, especially during his term as Israeli president, a largely ceremonial post. But his six-decade legacy is complex in Israel. Though he served as prime minister, he was also rejected by voters in other races.

Many Israelis have turned away from Peres' signal achievement, the hammering out of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the beginning of what has become a faltering peace process with the Palestinians.

Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat for the peace accord.

Peres' tenure in politics lasted through 10 U.S. presidents. He served in top government posts, including two terms as prime minister. He was also foreign minister, information minister, finance minister and defense minister.

Presidents saddened

In a statement, Obama said no Israeli did more over so many years as Peres to build the alliance with the United States.

"I will always be grateful that I was able to call Shimon my friend," Obama said.

He praised the Israeli leader's "unshakable moral foundation and unflagging optimism."

"Perhaps because he had seen Israel surmount overwhelming odds, Shimon never gave up on the possibility of peace between Israelis, Palestinians and Israel's neighbors -- not even after the heartbreak of the night in Tel Aviv that took Yitzhak Rabin," Obama said.

Rabin, then prime minister, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995 as he worked to build a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Peres succeeded Rabin as prime minister, one of three times he held the post.

"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," former President Bill Clinton said in a statement.

"His critics called him a dreamer. That he was -- a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end," said Clinton, who planned to attend the funeral.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who worked with Peres during his administration, praised an "innate humanity" that inspired many around the world. "By his unyielding determination and principle, Shimon Peres time and again helped guide his beloved country through the crucible of mortal challenge," Bush said in a statement.

Former President Jimmy Carter also remembered Peres for his work to attain peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Carter said he and his wife, Rosalynn, were saddened to learn of Peres' death and recalled Peres as "a gracious host during my visits to Israel while he was in office."

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, called Peres "someone I loved deeply."

"His intellect, his way with words that was eloquent beyond description, his command of the world and how it was changing were extraordinary," Blair said.

A former political opponent, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a broadcast statement, "Along with all the citizens of Israel, the entire Jewish people and many others around the world, I bow my head in memory of our beloved Shimon Peres, who was treasured by the nation."

Netanyahu added: "As a man of vision, he lifted his gaze to the future. As a man of security and defense, he buttressed Israel's might in many ways, some of which, even now, cannot be told. As a man of peace, he worked up until his last days for reconciliation with our neighbors for a better future for our children."

Netanyahu, who as a leader of the Likud party was in the past a political rival to Peres and his Labor Party, called for a moment of silence during parliamentary meetings Wednesday.

Israelis as family

Yoram Dori, a close friend and former adviser to Peres, said what drove the Israeli leader, even after numerous setbacks, was the fact that he saw his fellow Israelis as family.

"He more than once told me, especially in times of frustration, that the citizens of the state of Israel and the Jewish people were his family. He would say to me, 'Yoram, do you ever quit your family? Your concern until your last breath is your family and you will do everything you can to help your family, and my family is the state of Israel,'" Dori said.

Dori also recalled the time Peres met with Obama while Obama was still a senator. "Peres told him that the future is not for young people. They have to deal with day-to-day life. But for me, as an elder statesman I have the time to deal with the future," Dori said.

Peres was a more complicated figure among Palestinians, who remembered his role in advancing settlements in the West Bank and ordering a brief but deadly military campaign against Hezbollah on a United Nations base in Lebanon in 1996 that led to civilian deaths.

On social media, Palestinian supporters warned that glowing obituaries were a whitewash. They called Peres "a war criminal" and an Israeli "with blood on his hands."

Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former spokesman for the PLO, tweeted, "For Peres, 'peace' meant bombing civilians, stealing land, ethnic cleansing and building settlements."

Yet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tweeted in Arabic: "Shimon Peres's death is a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region."

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that Abbas had sent a condolence letter to the Peres family.

Information for this article was contributed by Anne Gearan, William Booth and Ruth Eglash of The Washington Post; by Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner of The New York Times; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 09/29/2016

Print Headline: Israelis mourn, reflect on Peres

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