Former Israeli Prime Minister Shamir Dies

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir died over the weekend at the age of 96.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Shamir had been part of the "generation of giants" that had established the State of Israel.

Born in Poland in 1915, Shamir moved to Israel in 1935. Two years later he joined the Etzel (Irgun Tzvai-Leumi) and later Lehi, fighting for independence in pre-state Israel.  In the 1950s he joined Israel's security services and in the 1960s as a private businessman became involved with the campaign to free Soviet Jewry.

Shamir was elected to the Knesset in 1973 and during the 1980s and early 90s, he served as Israel's seventh prime minister.  

"He dedicated his life and all his might to ensuring the existence of the state, the freedom of the Jewish people, the security of Israel's citizens and the ingathering of the exiles," Netanyahu said on Sunday.

In 1991 Shamir represented Israel at the International Peace Conference in Madrid, which led to Israel establishing ties with a number of countries.  It also led to international companies like McDonald's doing business with Israel, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said.

Shamir played a decisive role in directing hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants to the State of Israel some 20 years ago. He also ordered "Operation Solomon" in 1991, which brought 15,000 Ethiopian immigrants to Israel in a secret operation.

Netanyahu said Israel was losing one of the most solid and firm leaders Israel had ever known.

Other Israeli leaders also lauded Shamir.

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said Shamir was "the symbol of the rise of the state from the ashes of the Holocaust."
 
President Shimon Peres hailed Shamir as a "brave warrior before and after the founding of the State of Israel."

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