Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who died Saturday at the age of 96.

In the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu hailed Shamir, saying, "He had dedicated his life and all of his might to ensure the existence" of Israel. 

Shamir, a militant against British rule in the pre-state period, was the country‚Äôs second longest-serving prime minster after David Ben-Gurion. 

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Shamir was correct in his famous statement that "the sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs."

Shamir's remark was seen as implying that the Arabs had not changed their animosity towards Israel and a desire to throw the Jews into the sea. "With respect to his statements about [Israel's] neighbors, about the distinction between the sea and the land, it's possible that [although] these remarks ... unleashed a torrent of criticism at the time, even contempt, today there are of course many more people who understand that this man saw and understood basic and genuine things," Netanyahu said.

Shutafut-Sharakah, an umbrella advocacy group involved in Jewish-Arab civil rights issues, said in response to Netanyahu's comments that the prime minister was making use of the mourning over Shamir's death to incite against Arabs. "We regret that for Netanyahu, the term 'Arabs' includes the embodiment of a demonic people rather than people who live in the country and are entitled not only to equal rights but also protection from incitement."

Netanyahu told the cabinet that Shamir did not subjugate himself and did not bend the truth to suit the fashion of the time. He called Shamir "one of the founders of the State of Israel and one of its most devoted defenders."

We have lost a Jewish patriot, Netanyahu said, calling Shamir one of the country's most solid leaders. "He didn't radiate charisma. He simply radiated internal strength, and this in my opinion is more important than anything else."

Moshe Arens, who was a senior minister in Shamir's governments and a Likud party ally of the late prime minister (and now a Haaretz columnist ), remarked to Haaretz after learning of Shamir's death that he was an "uncompromising Zionist, a fervent supporter of settlement in Judea and Samaria, loyal to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people." Shamir led a modest private life, was level-headed in his decision-making and devoted his entire life to public service, Arens added.

Shamir will lie in state at the Knesset from 10 A.M. today and the public will able to pay their respects at the site until 4 P.M. At 6 P.M., Shamir will be buried in a state funeral at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Cemetery, which will also be open to the public.