Former Israeli president Shimon Peres remains in intensive care and breathing with the help of a respirator
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres remains in intensive care and breathing with the help of a respirator © Jack Guez - AFP
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres remains in intensive care and breathing with the help of a respirator
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Joe Dyke with Mike Smith in Jerusalem, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Israel's Peres sees 'real improvement' after major stroke

Former Israeli president and Nobel laureate Shimon Peres saw "real improvement" in his health Thursday but remained in serious condition after the 93-year-old suffered a major stroke, his doctor said.

Israelis have been on edge since their elder statesman and last remaining founding father was hospitalised on Tuesday feeling unwell and then suffered a stroke and internal bleeding.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been criticised by Peres in past years, visited the hospital on Wednesday night, saying: "We feel some relief... because this evening he is better than he was yesterday evening."

He could not enter Peres's room in intensive care and was given a briefing outside due to the sensitivity of his condition.

On Thursday, Peres's personal physician and son-in-law Rafi Walden told AFP that "there is another real improvement today", describing his condition as serious but stable.

His condition would likely remain that way in the coming days.

Peres was still breathing with the help of a respirator, but he was able to respond when his sedation was lessened as he had the previous day.

He has not been able to speak due to being intubated, Walden said.

"He squeezes the hand and he moves his legs," Walden said. "Definitely these are indications that he is listening and is responsive to our calls."

- 'Patriarch of peace' -

Peres has held nearly every major office in the country, serving twice as prime minister. He was president, a mostly ceremonial role, from 2007 to 2014.

He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was later assassinated by a far-right Jewish extremist, and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo autonomy accords.

The former hawk turned dove is widely respected both in Israel and abroad, regularly meeting world leaders and celebrities, seemingly charming them along the way.

In March, he met supermodel Naomi Campbell at his Peres Center for Peace during an event linked to International Women's Day. On the same day, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.

The Clintons, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been among those inquiring about his condition, a Peres spokeswoman said.

While doctors saw cause for optimism in Peres's improvement, they also cautioned that he remained at risk.

"The fact that he responds is an excellent start, but there are still numerous possibilities for complications related to his hospitalisation in intensive care," Zeev Feldman, a neurosurgeon involved in his treatment, told Israel's Channel 2 television.

"It is an environment that is not natural for a human being and which can create complications."

There have been statements of concern from across the political spectrum as well as from the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, who called Peres "a patriarch of peace and progress".

However, Arab Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas caused an uproar after describing Peres, who ordered the devastating "Grapes of Wrath" operation against Lebanon in 1996, as covered "head to toe" in the blood of Palestinians and other Arabs.

- Exercise, good wine -

In January, Peres was hospitalised twice for heart trouble.

In the first instance, the hospital said he had suffered a "mild cardiac event" and underwent catheterisation to widen an artery.

He was rushed to hospital a second time days later with chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.

Peres has sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.

He once confided that the secret to his longevity was daily exercise, eating little and drinking one or two glasses of good wine.

He once hawkishly rejected any compromise with hostile Arab states, but said he was converted after 1977, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.

Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11.

He joined the Zionist struggle in the 1940s and while hitchhiking met David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel's first prime minister.

Peres became director general of the nascent defence ministry at just 29 years old.

Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, he was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel's undeclared nuclear programme.

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