Former Israeli president and Noble Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres saw “real improvement” on Thursday but remained in serious condition after the 93-year-old suffered a major stroke, his doctor said.
The country has been on edge over the condition of the elder statesman, Israel’s last remaining founding father, after he was admitted to hospital on Tuesday feeling unwell and suffered a stroke with internal bleeding while there.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, criticised by Peres in recent 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.
Peres’s personal physician and son-in-law Rafi Walden told AFP on Thursday that “there is another real improvement today,” describing his condition as serious but stable.
He said it was likely his condition would remain that way in the coming days.
Peres was still breathing with the help of a respirator, but 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,” he 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 Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo accords.
The former hawk turned dove is widely respected both in Israel and abroad, regularly meeting world leaders and celebrities in recent years, seemingly charming them along the way.
In March, he met supermodel Naomi Campbell at his Peres Center for Peace for an event related to International Women’s Day.
On the same day, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.
While doctors saw cause for optimism in his improvement, they also noted 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.”
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.
When leaving hospital on January 19, Peres said he was keen to get back to work.
“I’m so happy to return to work, that was the whole purpose of this operation,” he said.
Peres 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 mandatory 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.