Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has always been a courageous and outspoken friend of the Jewish people and of Israel, and pledged to continue in this vein after receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israel’s highest civilian award, from President Shimon Peres on Monday.

The award was inaugurated by Peres to recognize and honor private individuals and organizations that made unique and outstanding contributions to Israeli society, enhanced the State of Israel’s image around the world and which constitute examples of initiative, innovation, creativity and vision.

Peres thanked Napolitano for his steadfast support of Israel and the Jewish people, and said that he was proud to confer the medal to someone who has raised a clear voice for democracy.

In response, Napolitano spoke of his unflagging relations with the State of Israel and the Jewish people and his ongoing determination to fight anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel that he said were an integral part of his anti-Fascist commitment.

Addressing Peres, whom he has known for many years, Napolitano said: “Peace is a part of your legacy and today we must say with conviction: the time has come for peace.”

Indeed, Peres had recently gone to Rome and attended – at the invitation of Pope Francis – a prayer for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East on Sunday. He went with a delegation of rabbis, imans and Christian and Druse spiritual leaders to join the pope in a joint prayer with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Referring to that event, which had taken place in the Vatican Gardens, Peres said: “The time has come for peace and we must find an agreed upon solution accepted by both parties. We still face threats, namely terror from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. We must overcome terror and improve the situation for all the people of the region. Israel stretches out its hand for peace with the Palestinians, our neighbors. I have experienced both war and peace and everyone deserves the right to live in peace.”

Peres returned home in time to remain abreast of developments in the election of his successor.

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