With 80 foreign leaders en route, Israel gears up for Peres funeral
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With 80 foreign leaders en route, Israel gears up for Peres funeral

Public pays last respects to former president at the Knesset, ahead of official ceremony and burial Friday; police plead for patience amid road closures

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A framed photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres is displayed with a memorial candle at the entrance to the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)
A framed photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres is displayed with a memorial candle at the entrance to the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Police on Wednesday issued hasty traffic notifications across Jerusalem as security services prepared for the arrival of dozens of foreign heads of state, ministers and public figures making their way to Israel to attend the funeral ceremony in the capital on Friday of former president Shimon Peres, who died early Wednesday morning at the age of 93.

Thousands of Israelis were also expected to pay their tributes to the last of the country’s founding fathers as his body will lie in state at the Knesset starting at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning. Members of the public will be able to file past the casket to pay their last respects to the former president and prime minister for the next 12 hours.

Peres’s body will be moved to the Mount Herzl cemetery Friday at 8:30 a.m. and the official state ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. After the eulogies, a procession will head out at 11:00 a.m. to the cemetery’s Great Leaders of the Nation section where a burial ceremony will then begin at 12:00 p.m. Peres will be interred between the late prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.

Beginning at 7:00 a.m on Friday, all roads leading to Mount Herzl will be closed to traffic including Agron, Ramban, Hecht, and Herzl Boulevard.

Press set up in front of a podium erected to hold the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)
Press set up in front of a podium erected to hold the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Entrance to the funeral is to be tightly controlled. The public will be able to watch the proceedings live on large screens set up outside the cemetery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will begin the proceedings Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. at the Knesset with a ceremony to lay wreaths on the casket.

Route 1, the main thoroughfare between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will close early Thursday morning as Peres’s body will be brought to Jerusalem to lie in state outside the Knesset. By 8:00 a.m Thursday, roads leading to the Knesset will be closed, including Kaplan, Zusman, and Route 16, according to police. These roads will also stay shut overnight.

Route 1 will also close intermittently through Thursday and Friday as some 80 presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, heads of parliaments, ambassadors and other representatives will make their way from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to the capital.

Among those planning to attend the funeral at Mount Herzl cemetery are US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German President Joachim Gauck, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, former British prime minister David Cameron and Britain’s Prince Charles.

Workers begin preparing the burial plot for former president Shimon Peres at the National Leaders section of the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Workers begin preparing the burial plot for former president Shimon Peres at the National Leaders section of the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The airport, Israel’s main air terminal, is expected to handle an uptick in air traffic — including 30 commercial flights and over 50 private planes transporting persons arriving for the funeral — throughout Thursday and into Friday.

Former US president Bill Clinton will be the first foreign leader to arrive Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the airport, which will effectively be spilt in two: one to handle regular air traffic and process routine flights and the second to handle the arrivals and departures of the foreign dignitaries.

Preparations to handle the surge in traffic began two weeks ago, according to reports, when Peres was admitted to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital after suffering a massive stroke.

Police Chief Roni Alsheich said preparations for securing and facilitating the funeral would be a “major — and in some ways, unprecedented — operation.”

Alsheich said the police’s job would be to “enable every last guest who wants to take part [in the funeral] to arrive [to Jerusalem] and make it back.”

Deputy Commissioner Alon Levavi, head of operations for the Israel Police, asked the public to be patient amid the closures.

“Presidents, very senior people, even dukes will be passing along these roads,” Levavi said Wednesday evening.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich speaks with the media about the preparations of the Israeli police for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres at the police headquarters in Jerusalem September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chief of Police Roni Alsheich speaks with the media about the preparations of the Israeli police for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres at the police headquarters in Jerusalem September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Musician David D’or will sing at the funeral by special request of Peres himself who asked for the performer in his will.

He will sing Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) at the ceremony, a Jewish prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur.

“When my beloved friend Yoni, the son of president Peres, notified me that the president asked in his will that I sing at his funeral, the tears flowed by themselves,” D’or said.

“The people of Israel lost a leader of unmatched scale, and I lost a close person, whose wisdom and power were an inspiration to me. From the place where he is now, he will watch over the people and the land that he loved so much. May his memory be blessed.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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