Former Israeli president Shimon Peres dies aged 93

Mr Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres dies aged 93

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Image: Dan Balilty / AP/Press Association Images

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres has died at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a stroke.

Doctors had said Mr Peres had made some progress but his condition deteriorated rapidly on Tuesday.

Born in Poland in 1923, Mr Peres emigrated to what was then British mandatory Palestine when he was 11.

He began his career as director general of the defence ministry in the 1950s, where he oversaw the development of Israel's nuclear programme.

Mr Peres held nearly every major office in Israel during a five-decade political career - serving twice as prime minister (1984-1986 and 1995-1996) and also as president between 2007 and 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 1993 accords were hailed as historic, leading to the creation of the Palestinian Authority and it was hoped they would lead to peace within five years.

Mr Peres had been foreign minister at the time of the deal, which was sealed with the symbolic handshake between Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat, watched by then US president Bill Clinton, in Washington.

But Mr Rabin was assassinated in 1995 and fighting since then has meant that, more than two decades after the deal, peace is elusive and some are ready to leave the two-state solution behind.

Flowers are placed outside the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Israel. Image: Oded Balilty / AP/Press Association Images

"There is no alternative to peace"

Even as a new round of talks in 2013 collapsed, Mr Peres was still optimistic, promoting "a Jewish state by the name of Israel and an Arab state by the name of Palestine not fighting each other but living together in friendship and cooperation".

He said: "There is no alternative to peace.

"There is no sense to go to war.

"Terror doesn't have a message, terror cannot break bread and cannot offer fresh air to breathe - it is costly, it is useless, it doesn't produce anything."

He had once rejected any compromise with hostile Arab states but said he changed his stance after 1977, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.

In an interview with Time published in February, he said: "I didn't change. I think the situation has changed.

"As long as there was a danger to the existence of Israel, I was what you would call a hawk...The minute I felt the Arabs are open to negotiation, I said that's what we prefer too."

He spent a lot of time promoting peace between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world through his Peres Center for Peace and never gave up on the two-state solution.

In the Time interview, he described it as "the only thing which is possible in order to bring an end to terror, violence and hatred".

His wife Sonya died in 2011. He leaves behind their three children and numerous grandchildren.

President Michael D Higgins said he learned of the death of Mr Peres with "great sadness".

He said: "Shimon Peres’ life and political actions were shaped by his deep commitment to his ideals, by his wisdom and by dedication to his country and to peace in the region.

"His life mirrored some of the great dramas of 20th century Europe and the Middle East and he shall be remembered for his courage that saw him change course from confrontation to reconciliation." 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "With Peres’ passing, Israel has lost one of its greatest statesmen. At the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, the laureates were praised for having 'not only shown that a road to reconciliation can be found, but also very bravely taken several steps down that road.'

"I hope that Peres’ legacy, along with that of Arafat and Rabin, will continue to inspire both Israelis and Palestinians leaders, as they continue on the road to reconciliation." 

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, meanwhile, paid to tribute to a "great statesman with a remarkable and illustrious political career".

US President Barack Obama described Mr Peres as "a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves - to the very end of our time on Earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others".

He added: "A light has gone out but the hope he gave us will burn forever."