JERUSALEM - Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who clung throughout his life to the belief that Israel should hang on to territory and never trust an Arab regime, has died. He was 96.
Israeli media said Shamir had suffered from Alzheimer's for years and died after a long illness Saturday at a nursing home in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
In his younger days, Shamir served as a Jewish underground leader who fought the British as well as Arab militias before Israel's creation in 1948. Later, he hunted Nazi scientists as a Mossad agent before eventually becoming Israel's seventh prime minister.
His time in office was eventful, marked by the massive airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the Palestinian uprising and the 1991 Gulf war, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.
Israelis across the political spectrum paid tribute to the former leader Saturday.
"Yitzhak Shamir was a brave warrior before and after the founding of the State of Israel," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, a longtime political opponent of Shamir. "He was loyal to his views, a great patriot and a true lover of Israel who served his country with integrity and unending commitment. May his memory be blessed."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "led Israel with a deep loyalty to the nation and to the land and to the eternal values of the Jewish people."
A statement from the White House press secretary said, "Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to the State of Israel. From his days working for Israel's independence to his service as Prime Minister, he strengthened Israel's security and advanced the partnership between the United States and Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Israel."
Shamir served as premier for seven years, from 1983-84 and 1986-92, leading his party to election victories twice, despite lacking much of the outward charisma that characterizes many modern politicians. Barely over five feet tall and built like a block of granite, he projected an image of uncompromising solidity during the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the West Bank and Gaza that demanded an end to Israeli occupation.