ISRAEL

All-star party as peace pioneer Shimon Peres prepares to turn 90

Global leaders and Hollywood greats honour the peace pioneer, who will turn 90 in August

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 10:40pm
AP

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Israeli and global leaders, local celebrities and Hollywood superstars celebrated under one roof to honour Israeli President Shimon Peres for his upcoming 90th birthday, reflecting world respect for one of the country's peace pioneers.

Peres is hosting his annual Presidential Conference that brings together artists, thinkers and leaders to discuss issues relevant to Israel and the world.

Instrumental in building Israel's military in the first days of the state six decades ago, Peres served twice as prime minister and promoted peace between Israel and the Palestinians, sometimes reaching far ahead of his own people.

For his role in the landmark interim peace accord in 1993, he received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize along with Israel's then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

His campaigning for a peace agreement has won him supporters and sympathisers around the world. His last five years as Israel's president has also gained him affection at home.

In an event that kicked off the conference on Tuesday, singer and actress Barbra Streisand sang a prayer in Hebrew and belted out one of her greatest hits People to enthusiastic applause. Former US president Bill Clinton was ushered to the stage by a quintet of saxophones.

Leaders and public figures from around the world, from Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama to singer Bono, sent their good wishes. His birthday is in August, but organisers felt it would be difficult to bring back such a star-studded, high-powered crowd so soon. The conference, held every June, is doubling as a birthday bash.

Clinton, who on Monday prodded Israelis to hasten to make peace with the Palestinians, stepped away from politics at the two-hour long celebration, choosing instead to poke fun at Peres' age, calling him "the last living Israeli who knew King David".

Scattered in the audience among Israeli cabinet ministers and local clergy sat actors Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone. Rwandan President Paul Kagame sat in the front row beside former British prime minister Tony Blair, now an international envoy to the Middle East.

The star of the night was Streisand, dressed in a flowing black dress. She sang the Jewish prayer Avinu Malkeinu, which Peres called "heavenly".

Peres, who serves in a largely ceremonial position, told the crowd: "We long for peace with our neighbours. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope."