Former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres dies at 93

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World leaders gathered to pay tribute to Israeli President Shimon Peres.
(Photo: CNN)

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TEL AVIV -- Shimon Peres, the Israeli elder statesman who shared a Nobel Prize for forging a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, has died. He served as a constant force for generations in Israeli politics.

The 93-year-old died after suffering a massive stroke two weeks ago. He was reported to be making progress but doctors said he took a turn for the worse Tuesday.

In top leadership roles over the decades -- including prime minister and president -- the Labor Party veteran became a face of the Jewish State, instantly recognized and well-respected in Israel and across the globe.

"There's no corner of this country that he hasn't touched," Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog once said. "Everywhere he goes around the world, people listen to him."

Over 50 years in politics

Peres retired from public office in 2014 after the end of his seven-year term as president. In Israeli politics for more than half a century, he held virtually every position in Cabinet, from minister of defense to prime minister, a position he held three times.

He battled Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for Labor Party leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, eventually becoming Rabin's foreign minister.

In that role, Peres concluded the Oslo Peace Accords, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

"I am very grateful to him for a lifetime of thinking big thoughts and dreaming big dreams and figuring out practical ways to achieve them," President Bill Clinton once said of a man he considered a friend.

After Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Peres became prime minister, calling early elections so the government would have a mandate to pursue a two-state solution.

But a wave of Palestinian suicide attacks left Peres struggling to defend the peace process, ultimately costing him the next election.

Making history

As Israel's ninth president, he addressed the Turkish parliament in 2007, becoming the first Israeli president to speak to a Muslim country's legislature.

He called for peace talks in 2011 with the Palestinians and warned the United Nations against recognizing Palestine as an independent state outside a peace plan.

He received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 from President Barack Obama.

After leaving office in 2014 he remained in the public eye, continuing his work for peace in the Middle East.

Tributes from home and abroad

"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 from the White House. "Shimon was the essence of Israel itself."

Peres' contemporary, Clinton, said "Israel has lost a leader who championed its security, prosperity, and limitless possibilities from its birth to his last day on earth."

"He was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict, economic and social empowerment not anger and frustration," Clinton added.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu released a statement expressing his sadness for the country's ninth leader.

"Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara express deep personal sorrow for the passing of a man cherished by the nation, the (former) President of Israel Shimon Peres," the statement read.

It added that the prime minister will deliver a special statement Wednesday morning, and will convene his cabinet for a special session of mourning.

Earlier Tuesday, a visibly shaken minister Aryeh Deri, Israel's defense minister, told reporters that he had been praying for Peres at his bedside.

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