Aron Heller

JERUSALEM: Shimon Peres was laid to rest Friday by dozens of world leaders who praised Israels former president and prime minister for pursuing peace with an indefatigable spirit and optimism, even though his vision of a new Middle East was never fulfilled.

At a high-powered funeral befitting the globe-trotting Peres, speakers including President Barack Obama recalled a seven-decade political career that personified the history of Israel by building its military while also pushing it toward peace.

He knew better than the cynic that if you look out over the arc of history, human beings should be filled not with fear but with hope, Obama told the mourners, made up of delegations from 70 countries an assembly of dignitaries unlikely to be seen in Israel again.

We gather here today with the knowledge that Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled, he added. The region is going through a chaotic time. Threats are forever present. And yet, he did not stop dreaming and he did not stop working.

Peres, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, died Wednesday at age 93.

Among the mourners were French President Francois Hollande, Britains Prince Charles, German President Joachim Gauck and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Despite the stalemate in peace talks, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sat in the front row alongside other world leaders. Representatives from Egypt and Jordan also were present.

Obama described the unlikely friendship he forged with Peres, given their vastly different backgrounds, and he likened him to South Africas Nelson Mandela.

It was so surprising to see the two of us, where we had started, talking together in the White House, meeting here in Israel, Obama said. I think both of us understood that we were here only because in some way we reflected the magnificent story of our nations.

He ended his comments by saying in Hebrew, Toda rabah haver yakar, Thank you so much, dear friend.

The gesture evoked one made by former President Bill Clinton 21 years ago, when he eulogized Rabin, who was killed by a Jewish nationalist. Clinton said, Shalom haver, or Goodbye, my friend.

Clinton was president when Peres negotiated a historic interim peace accord with the Palestinians in 1993. In his remarks Friday, he said Peres started life as Israels brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.

The ceremony was Israels largest gathering of international dignitaries since Rabins funeral, and was one of the most complicated logistical and security operations ever undertaken. It required closing the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and deploying thousands of security forces.

Thousands of mourners viewed Peres casket Thursday outside the parliament building. Early Friday, an honor guard escorted the flag-draped casket, along with Peres family, on the short route to the cemetery.