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Obama on Peres, says he fell prey to his charms

Shimon Peres was being laid to rest on Friday in a ceremony attended by thousands of admirers and world leaders

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Shimon Peres was being laid to rest on Friday in a ceremony attended by thousands of admirers and dozens of international dignitaries - in a final tribute to a man who personified the history of Israel during a seven-decade political career.

US President Barack Obama, former US President Bill Clinton and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas headlined a long list of world leaders who converged on Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl, for the event.

In a nod to the Palestinian leader, Abbas sat in the front row at the memorial service.

Obama fell prey to Peres’ charms

Obama hailed Peres Friday as a man who showed the world that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist ideal and saw “all people as deserving of dignity and respect.”

Wearing a Jewish skullcap as a sign of respect and reverence, Obama said he was the 10th president to fall prey to Peres’ charms and they forged an unlikely friendship, despite the nearly four-decade gap in their ages and starkly different backgrounds.

“It was so surprising to see the two of us, where we had started, talking together in the White House, meeting here in Israel,” he said. “I think both of us understood that we were here only because in some way we reflected the magnificent story of our nations.”

“The last of the founding generation is now gone,” Obama said, speaking just to the left of Peres’ casket draped in blue and white.

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In an emotional eulogy, Clinton described Peres as a “wide champion of our common humanity.”

“He started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer,” Clinton said.

Peres, who held every major office in Israel, including president and prime minister, died on Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 93.

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Friday’s funeral was Israel’s largest gathering of international dignitaries since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres’ partner in peace, who was killed by a Jewish nationalist in 1995. The funeral created numerous logistical and security challenges, and roads, including the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, were closed.