Former US president Bill Clinton paid last respects to Israel’s Shimon Peres on Thursday as the body of the Nobel Peace Prize winner lay in state outside the country’s parliament.
Clinton appeared moved as he stood silently before Peres’s flag-draped coffin at the plaza outside parliament in Jerusalem.
The former US president had helped usher in the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, which resulted in the Nobel prize for Peres, who died on Wednesday aged 93.
Following Peres’s death, Clinton called the former Israeli president and prime minister “a genius with a big heart” and said “the Middle East has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation”.
“I’ll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations,” he said.
Clinton arrived as thousands of mourners paid tribute to Peres, who will lie in state until 9:00 pm Thursday (1800 GMT).
Hillary Clinton, locked in a tight presidential race in the United States, did not accompany her husband on the trip.
On Thursday morning, a solemn ceremony saw President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition leader Isaac Herzog lay wreaths beside Peres’s coffin.
The plaza was then opened to the public and thousands began streaming past the coffin.
A major security operation was being put in place ahead of Friday’s funeral, which is to be attended by leaders from across the world, including Clinton, US President Barack Obama and Britain’s Prince Charles.
Obama ordered all flags in the US to fly at half-mast in honor of Peres. “As a mark of respect for the memory of Shimon Peres, former President and Prime Minister of Israel, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me…that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels,” a White House directive said.
The directive extended the order to US government and military facilities abroad. The flags will remain lowered until sundown on Friday.