Jerusalem: Thousands of Israelis flocked to parliament on Thursday to view the casket of Shimon Peres, paying final respects to the former president and prime minister whose life story mirrored that of his country.
Dignitaries began arriving for a funeral that is expected to be Israel's largest since that of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres' partner in peace who was slain by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.
Peres' office said more than 90 delegations from 70 countries have confirmed their participation, including US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck, Prince Charles of Britain and King Felipe VI of Spain.
After an initial hesitation due to the collapse of peace efforts, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also confirmed his participation, as did representatives from Egypt and Jordan the two Arab countries at peace with Israel.
That was a testament to the wide reach of Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was his country's strongest advocate for ending the conflict in the Middle East.
In contrast to an outpouring of grief from Western leaders, Arab leaders have remained largely silent over Peres' death. Abbas was one of the few to express sorrow.
A representative said he wanted to attend the funeral to send a message to Israeli society that despite the current stalemate, Palestinians still believe in peace and appreciate men of peace like Peres.
Many in the Arab world are deeply critical of Peres because of his role in building Israel's defense arsenal, his early support for West Bank settlements and for waging war in Lebanon while prime minister.
Israeli Arab leaders, whose community Peres championed, were also conspicuously quiet.
"We have strong objections and criticism to Peres of the occupation, of building the settlements and the crimes in Qana (in Lebanon)," said Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List in parliament. Arab social media sites also featured caricatures depicting Peres as the angel of death.
However, Khalid al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, issued a rare Arab tribute.
"Rest in peace President Shimon Peres, a man of war and a man of the still elusive peace in the Middle East," he tweeted.
Police were preparing for a complicated security operation, which will include the closing of the major highway from the airport, as well as shutting down a large part of Jerusalem.
Published Date: Sep 30, 2016 09:39 am | Updated Date: Sep 30, 2016 09:39 am