Former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres died early Wednesday, some two weeks after suffering a major stroke. He was 93.
Peres died in his sleep at around 3:00 am, Rafi Walden, who is also Peres’s son-in-law, told Agence France Presse.
He had been surrounded by family members, a source close to Peres told AFP.
Peres’ condition worsened following the stroke that led to bleeding in his brain. He was sedated and on a respirator during most of his hospitalization.
His family held a press conference later in the morning at the hospital where Peres had been treated for the past two weeks.
“He had no interest other than serving the people of Israel,” said his son Chemi, his eyes moist as he read a letter on behalf of the family at the hospital.
His death triggered an outpouring of grief for the beloved elder statesman.
U.S. President Barack Obama immediately hailed Peres as a friend who “never gave up on the possibility of peace.”
“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves,” Obama said in a statement.
“My friend Shimon was one of those people.”
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who helped usher in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, said: “The Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin cut short an official visit to Ukraine to attend Peres’ funeral in Israel.
Rivlin is in Ukraine for a commemoration of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre, in which more than 100,000 Jews and others were killed by Nazi officers in a ravine on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev during World War II.
Rivlin, who succeeded Peres as president in 2014, said in a statement: “A short distance from where I am visiting in Ukraine, in the city of Vishnyeva, Belarus, was born Szymon Perski, who grew to be a young man with great dreams.”
Peres later immigrated to pre-state Israel and changed his last name.
Rivlin said: “Shimon made us look far into the future, and we loved him. We loved him because he made us dare to imagine not what was once here, nor what is now, but what could be.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “profound sadness.” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the head of Labor, Peres’ longtime party, said he will be “forever remembered as an icon of Israel’s history.”
Peres held nearly every major office in the country, serving twice as prime minister and also as president, a mostly 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.
The former hawk turned dove was widely respected both in Israel and abroad.
Peres had sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.
Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11.
He joined the Zionist struggle and met David Ben-Gurion, who would become his mentor and Israel’s first prime minister.
Peres became director general of the nascent defense ministry at just 29.
Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, he was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel’s undeclared nuclear program.