Obama, Abbas to attend memorial service for former Israeli PM Peres

JERUSALEM,  U.S. President Barack Obama left Washington on Thursday and headed for Israel, where he will join hundreds of world dignitaries in remembering former prime minister Shimon Peres at his memorial service.

Obama, Abbas to attend memorial service for former Israeli PM Peres
Knesset honor guards carry the coffin of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres in the plaza of the Israeli Knesset, in Jerusalem, Israel, on Thursday. President Barack Obama left Washington for Jerusalem Thursday to attend Friday’s funeral. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, an adversary of Peres’, will also attend. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Obama, who was expected to attend the service, boarded Air Force One for Jerusalem Thursday afternoon. In Israel, he will join former President Bill Clinton among a throng of American leaders who will have paid respects to the former leader.

Clinton, who helped usher in the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s, was among the first foreign dignitaries to honor Peres. The Oslo pact netted Peres the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly along with then-Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

“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,” Clinton said.

Peres, 93, died of a stroke Wednesday. He served three separate stints as Israeli prime minister and one as the country’s president.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin honored Peres as he lay in state Thursday at the parliament building in Jerusalem.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, an adversary to Israel, announced Thursday the would also attend the funeral.

Others who will attend Friday’s ceremony are U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French President François Hollande of France and other world leaders.

Before his departure, Obama ordered U.S. flags be flown at half-staff in Peres’ memory. He said flying the nation’s flags: “https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/09/28/presidential-proclamation-death-shimon-peres” target=”_blank”} at half-staff serves “as a mark of respect” for the well-respected Israeli leader.

The U.S. flag has rarely been used to mark the death of foreign leaders. In 2013, Obama issued the order to honor the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela. In 2005, President George W. Bush marked the death of Pope John Paul II in the same manner.

“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. My friend Shimon was one of those people,” Obama said.

By Amy R. Connolly and Doug G. Ware