PM: Generations of pilots raised on tales of Weizman's life
Katsav: Seventh president 'remembered as great patriot'; thousands of Israelis turn out to pay respects.
Israel's leaders paid emotional tribute to former president Ezer Weizman on Tuesday afternoon, as they gathered for his funeral in the town of Or Akiva.
President Moshe Katsav called Weizman a "man of vision," who was "one of the most influential figures in Israel."
"Weizman will be remembered as a great patriot," said Katsav. He "fought for the principles in which he believed."
Katsav honored Weizman's contribution to the development of the Israel Air Force, the victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, which came two years after his move into politics.
"I have lost a dear friend, who stood by my side since the start of my political journey as a 24-year-old," the president said Tuesday.
Weizman's legacy, said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his eulogy, will continue to serve as an inspiration for the state. Weizman is credited as having played a key role in the 1979 peace accord with Egypt.
"Generations of pilots, soldiers and youngsters are taught the story of your life," said Sharon. "You were always a believer in Israel's strength, its talent and the courage in the hearts of its citizens. You were a fierce opponent of any display of weakness."
But, he said, "There was also the Ezer of mischief, of a drink, and of laughter."
Thousands of people turned out Tuesday morning to pay their last respects to Israel's seventh president, who died Sunday night at age 80, as his body lay in state in the municipal auditorium in Or Akiva.
A formation of F-16s from the Israel Air Force 101 Squadron performed a memorial flyover. Weizman was commander of the 101 Squadron for eight years until 1966.
The state ceremony started at 4 P.M. in the plaza outside the auditorium. Air Force Commander Eliezer Shkedi and Weizman's daughter, Michal Yaffe, also delivered eulogies.
"Every citizen suddenly feels orphaned," said Yaffe. "You were the father of an entire nation."
Very few people influence entire nations, Shkedi told the mourners, but Weizman did.
Tributes also came from Or Akiva Mayor Simha Yosipov, who said that the city saw Weizman as a father to all.
Yosipov's words were echoed by former mayor Yaakov Edri, now a Likud lawmaker.
"From the day that the Weizman family arrived in Caesarea, we received a valued friend," Edri said, adding that Ezer and Reuma Weizman had become enmeshed in the life of the town.
Following the eulogies, the coffin was placed on an army command car and driven down Hanassi Street, the main thoroughfare of the town.
At his request, Weizman was to be interred in the local cemetery alongside his son Shauli and daughter-in-law Racheli, who were killed in a road accident in 1992. Following their burials, the former president bought a plot alongside their graves.
The ministerial committee for state ceremonies decided that only 200 official guests would attend the funeral alongside the family and close friends. They include ministers, MKs, Supreme Court justices, the chief rabbis, heads of the Israel Defense Forces and representatives of the police and the diplomatic corps.
The national flag was flown at half mast Tuesday on all public buildings, and the electronic media were asked to tone down the nature of their programming.
The funeral was to conclude with an airforce salute over Or Yehuda. A black Spitfire, known in the air force as Weizman's "private plane," on Monday performed a memorial flyover in the Negev and then landed in Tel Aviv. It was to fly over Weizman's funeral procession Tuesday before returning to its base in the south.
Meanwhile, condolences have continued to pour in from foreign dignitaries: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a statement Monday expressing his sorrow on the death of Weizman. Carter said Weizman was a real Israeli hero both in times of war and of peace. He said the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which he brokered, is a symbol of what can be achieved by a combination of statesmanship and political courage.
Jordan's King Abdullah wrote to Katsav to express his condolences. He conveyed his deepest sorrow to the Israeli nation and said he hoped God would give Weizman's family peace at this difficult time.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Weizman's widow, Reuma, to express his condolences. Mubarak referred to Weizman as "my dear friend" and apologized for not being able to attend the funeral, saying he had to remain in Egypt to host the visiting Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia also sent his condolences to Katsav, the Israeli people and the Weizman family.