Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife expressed their condolences early Wednesday morning at the passing of Israel’s ninth president and internationally cherished diplomat emeritus Shimon Peres.
Few are the people in Israel's history who have done as much for the state and the Jewish people as Shimon Peres, Netanyahu said in a statement released just before a special cabinet meeting he is convening to honor the former president.
“Like all the citizens of Israel, the whole Jewish people, and many in the world, I bow my head in memory of our beloved Shimon Peres,” he said in a statement.
Peres, who dedicated his life to Israel's independence, was a visionary who looked to the future, Netanyahu said. But he was also a man for whom security was utmost in his mind, and who buttressed the country's security capacities in many ways, some of which are still not publicly known to this day.
And as a man of peace, Netanyahu said, “he worked until his last days toward reconciliation with our neighbors for a better future for our children.”
Netanyahu's said that the first time he met Peres was 40 years ago at the grave site of his brother, Yoni, killed in the 1976 Entebbe raid.
“I will never forget his warmth towards me, my brother Ido, and my parents in our time of grief,” he said.
Netanyahu -- who for many years was a bitter political rival of Peres and defeated him in the 1996 elections, but in the end worked closely with him when the later was president -- said that Peres’ name will be forever etched in the memory of the the nation “as one of Israel's great leaders, and one of the founding fathers who established the State of Israel.”
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rilvin cut short his state visit to the Ukraine and was expected to fly back to Israel on Wednesday. In a statement he issued to the media, he recalled that Peres had been born just a short distance away from the places he had visited on his trip.
“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. From here, from Eastern Europe, he emigrated to the land of Israel, and ever since never ceased to work for the sake of the Zionist movement, for the sake of the State of Israel, and the people of Israel," Rivlin said.
“There is not a chapter in the history of the State of Israel in which Shimon did not write or play a part. As one man he carried a whole nation on the wings of imagination, on the wings of vision. A man who was a symbol for the great spirit of this people," he added. "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."
“This is a sad day for the Israeli people, and the State of Israel. We all bow our heads at hearing of his passing. I will carry his memory with me, his handshake, his sensible advice which he always gave lovingly, and in particular his spirit of hope which he breathed into this people. The spirit of hope and peace which was his path and desire.”
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen also expressed his condolences on behalf of Israel's intelligence agency over Peres's death.
Cohen recounted that Peres had worked for years with the agency for Israel's security, and lauded the veteran statesman as "as symbol of peace and brotherhood" who "made an enormous contribution to strengthen Israel's security."
Other Israeli politicians who woke up to the news, immediately began to issue statements in his honor.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat mourned Peres's death, calling the former president a "true friend of Jerusalem."
He "participated every year in Jerusalem's "Good Deeds Day" as a volunteer who always took a paint brush in hand and personally worked to make Jerusalem more beautiful, Barkat recounted.
"With his endless vigor and energy, president Peres also experienced Jerusalem's nightlife. Wearing a leather jacket, (the) president joined us on several cold Jerusalem nights for tours of the City Center, at the Jerusalem Wine Festival, and at countless other events. Every time I met president Peres, he always had good advice to share. In every discussion, he offered a fresh perspective, and he always looked far into the future," Barkat said.
"President Peres played an important role in the founding of the State of Israel and in many important events in our country's past," the mayor said. "His story is the story of Israel. However, he was not only a wise scholar of global history. His rich history and deep knowledge and experience inspired him to dream and look towards the future. He shaped the very essence of our world's history with his wisdom and actions. At the same time, he understood new technological advances and how to utilize them to benefit future generations."
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) also reacted, saying "Shimon Peres was an unbreakable part of the State of Israel's history, from its creation until today.”
“We both served in Sharon's second Government and although we had our differences I always appreciated his wisdom and will to make Israel a better place for its people.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said that "departing from Shimon Peres is a sad departure from a man of vision who always looked ahead to tomorrow. He was a leader who belonged to the generation who established our country and worked tirelessly for our people."
"Even those who disagreed with him politically looked up to him and admired his determination for peace and constant renewal through which he lived his life. Even in his biological age he was young in spirit and never gave up his hope to change the world."
Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.