Israeli ex-president Shimon Peres dies

Israel has been on edge over the health of its last remaining founding father, who had been under sedation and respiratory support in intensive care since September 13.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

This file photo taken on May 9, 2016 shows former Israeli president Shimon Peres looking on during the opening of the "Mini World Cup for Peace" football event at the Herzlyia stadium, in the Israeli city of Herzlyia near Tel Aviv.

Israeli ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres died on Wednesday, some two weeks after suffering a major stroke.

The 93-year-old died in his sleep at around 3:00 am (local time), Rafi Walden, who is Peres's son-in-law and personal doctor, told AFP. 

He died surrounded by family members, a source close to Peres told AFP. A press conference was being planned for around 7:00 am (0400 GMT).

As the news of his death spread, several world leaders expressed great sorrow over the ex-Israeli president's passing away.

President Barack Obama hailed Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres as a friend who refused to give up on the dream 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. My friend Shimon was one of those people," Obama said in a White House statement.

The US president said Peres' commitment to Israel's security and pursuit of peace was "rooted in his own unshakeable moral foundation and unflagging optimism."

This file photo taken on June 25, 2014 shows US President Barack Obama meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC.

"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.

Peres had been in hospital near Tel Aviv since September 13, when he was admitted feeling unwell and suffered the stroke with internal bleeding.

Israel has been on edge over the health of its last remaining founding father, who had been under sedation and respiratory support in intensive care.

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.

This file photo taken on July 15, 2001 shows Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres shaking hands during a meeting in Cairo.

The former hawk turned dove was widely respected both in Israel and abroad.

After suffering the stroke, he received an outpouring of support from across the world, including from Pope Francis, US President Barack Obama, the Clinton family, Donald Trump, Britain's ex-premier Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called him "tireless in seeking peace between Israelis and Palestinians".

Previous heart trouble 

There had been signs of improvement last week. On September 18, Peres's office said doctors planned to gradually reduce his sedation and respiratory support to judge his response.

His personal physician and son-in-law Rafi Walden had said at the time that Peres had seen "very slow, moderate improvement".

But on Tuesday, a source close to Peres said his condition had taken a downturn and he was "fighting for his life". Family members arrived at the hospital.

In January, Peres was hospitalised twice because of heart trouble.

In the first case, the hospital said he had suffered a "mild cardiac event" and underwent catheterisation to widen an artery. He was rushed to hospital a second time just days later with chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.

Peres had sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace. When leaving hospital on January 19, Peres said he was keen to get back to work.

"I'm so happy to return to work, that was the whole purpose of this operation," he said.

British model Naomi Campbell (C) stands next to her mother Valerie Morris and former Israeli president Shimon Peres (L) during a meeting with children ahead of an International Women's Day conference at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv on March 8.

In March, he met British supermodel Naomi Campbell at his Peres Center for Peace during an event linked to International Women's Day. On the same day, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.

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 defence ministry at just 29 years old.

Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, he was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel's undeclared nuclear programme.

Peres once confided that the secret to his longevity was daily exercise, eating little and drinking one or two glasses of good wine.