JERUSALEM • World leaders bid farewell to Israeli elder statesman and Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres at his funeral in Jerusalem yesterday, with US President Barack Obama hailing him as a giant of the 20th century.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was among the mourners at the city's Mount Herzl national cemetery and was seated in the front row, reportedly at the request of Mr Peres' family.
Mr Abbas knew Mr Peres well and negotiated with him. In an extremely rare move, he shook hands and spoke briefly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon arrival.
"Long time, long time," Mr Abbas told Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara. They have not held face-to- face talks since 2010.
Security forces were on high alert, with roads closed and thousands of officers deployed.
Some 70 countries were represented, with the range of leaders reflecting the respect that Mr Peres had gained over the years during his transformation from hawk to committed peace advocate.
"In many ways, he reminded me of some other giants of the 20th century that I had the honour to meet: men like Nelson Mandela, women like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth," said Mr Obama, who wore a black Jewish skullcap.
REST IN PEACE
... a great man of the world. Be at peace, Shimon, dear man, exceptional leader.
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, who had been a political rival of Mr Peres.
Leaders of Arab countries were overwhelmingly absent from the funeral.
Mr Peres' death on Wednesday at the age of 93 after suffering a major stroke drew tributes from around the world for Israel's last remaining founding father.
An estimated 50,000 people filed past his coffin outside the Parliament in Jerusalem throughout Thursday. Former US president Bill Clinton was among those who paid their last respects there, appearing moved as he stood in silence before the coffin. Mr Clinton had helped usher in the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, which resulted in the Nobel prize for Mr Peres.
He also spoke at the funeral, giving a warm eulogy in which he said Mr Peres' "critics often claimed he was a naive, overly optimistic dreamer. They were only wrong about the naive part".
Mr Netanyahu, in his eulogy, called Mr Peres a "great man of the world". The two men had been political rivals, and Mr Netanyahu recalled a late-night discussion on Israel's future with Mr Peres in which they debated security and peace. "Be at peace, Shimon, dear man, exceptional leader," he said.
The funeral was held under a white canopy in the leafy national cemetery, where many Israeli dignitaries are buried. About 8,000 police were deployed for the commemorations. Preventative arrests of both Jews and Palestinians were made ahead of the funeral to avoid potential disruptions, police said.
While Mr Peres is hailed in the West as a peacemaker, many in the Arab world, including among the Palestinians, regard him as a "war criminal". They cite his involvement in successive Arab-Israeli wars, the occupation of Palestinian territory and his support for settlement building before his work on the Oslo accords.
Britain's Prince Charles, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former British leaders David Cameron and Tony Blair were also at the funeral.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS