Israel mourns veteran politician Binyamin Ben Eliezer

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer shakes hands with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak

Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a veteran Israeli politician who held several top government posts and often served as a bridge to the Arab world, died on Sunday. He was 80.

Israeli media reported that he died at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital after a long illness.

Mr Ben Eliezer, known affectionately by his original Arabic first name, Fuad, was born in Basra, Iraq in 1936 and moved to Israel in 1950.

In this Jan. 30, 2002 file photo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer

He joined the Israeli military in 1954 and served as a commander in the Middle East wars that followed. He retired in 1984 with the rank of brigadier general and entered politics.

Mr Ben Eliezer was a prominent member of the dovish Labour party and served in senior ministerial positions including defence, trade and communications.

He held the defence post at a particularly difficult time, at the height of the second Palestinian intifadah, or uprising, in 2001 and 2002.

A native Arabic speaker, Mr Ben Eliezer was on friendly terms with deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders and helped bridge gaps between Israel and the Arab world.

In Israel, he was known for his friendly demeanour, good relations with politicians across the spectrum and a reputation as a backroom negotiator. Last year, he was indicted for allegedly misusing funds.

Former president Shimon Peres, a long-time partner in the Labour Party, was among many Israeli leaders who expressed their sorrow over Mr Ben Eliezer’s death.

Mr Peres eulogised him in a statement, saying: “I will remember Fuad as a brave soldier and officer in the Israeli Defence forces and as a warm person who loved people, whose heart was planted deeply in the land of the country and in the fate of its people.”

Premier Benjamin Netanyahu praised Mr Ben Eliezer for decades of service to the country and his “special character”.

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