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Former Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir dies at 96

Shamir had withdrawn from public life since the mid-1990s, silenced by Alzheimer's disease [AFP]Israeli media have reported that former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir has died. He was 96.

Benjamin Netnayhau, the current Israeli prime minister, mourned Shamir's death on Saturday, saying in a statement that Shamir "led Israel with a deep loyalty to the nation".

Netanyahu "expresses his deep pain over the announcement of the departure of Yitzhak Shamir. He was part of a marvelous generation which created the state of Israel and struggled for the Jewish people", the statement said.

The funeral is to take place on Monday in Jerusalem, where he is to be buried alongside his wife, Shulamit, who died last July.

Born Yitzhak Jazernicki in Poland in 1915, he moved to Palestine in 1935.

After the creation of Israel, Shamir continued his clandestine activities in the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, notably serving at the agency's European headquarters in Paris.

Shamir gave up spying in 1965 and entered politics five years later to become speaker of the Knesset after his right-wing Likud party won general elections in 1977.

Against territorial pullout

As head of Likud, which Netanyahu now leads, he served as premier from 1983 to 1984 and from 1986 to 1992.

His term as prime minister was marked by the Palestinian uprising and the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles on Israel.

Shamir never saw territorial pullout as a way to resolve the Middle East conflict, and was one of the few deputies to abstain during the 1978 vote to ratify Israel's historic peace agreement with Egypt.

In 1999 he left Likud, accusing Netanyahu of betraying his party's ideology by agreeing to limited Palestinian sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank. Shamir always believed the Jewish state should stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Shamir had withdrawn from public life since the mid-1990s, silenced by Alzheimer's disease.

He made his final appearance on the international stage at the 1991 Madrid international conference which led to peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Following Likud's defeat to Labour in 1992 elections, Shamir retired from political life in 1996.

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