Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas joined world leaders and thousands of Israelis in paying their respects at the funeral of former Israel president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday, The New York Times reported. United States President Barack Obama greeted Abbas warmly and during his address at the ceremony said the Palestinian leader's presence at the funeral was a reminder of "unfinished business of peace".
A Palestinian official said Abbas wanted to "send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres", according to an AP report. A 12-hour public memorial is being held to honour Peres.
Israel and Palestine have been divided over the Jewish occupation of land that Palestinians have been demanding for an independent state. This was the Palestinian leader's first visit to the nation since 2010, according to BBC. A spokesperson of Palestinian militant group Hamas had urged Abbas to reconsider his decision to "participate in the funeral of the criminal Shimon Peres". Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a rare cordial handshake at the ceremony.
Obama spoke of the friendship he shared with the Israeli leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner and said that Peres showed that "justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist ideal." He and other leaders wore a Jewish skullcap in a sign of respect. Former US president Bill Clinton, in his address, referred to Israel's co-founder as a "complicated, brilliant friend".
Peres died after suffering a stroke on Wednesday at the age of 93. He served as Israel's prime minister on two occasions and became its ninth president in 2007.
Peres was credited with being one of the major negotiators of the Oslo peace accords of 1993-1995 involving Yitzhak Rabi, Israel's prime minister at the time, and Palestine Liberation Organisation chief Yasser Arafat. He also helped develop the West Asian nation's secret nuclear arms programme, largely without the United States' backing in the 1950s and 1960s.