Former Israeli President Ezer Weizman, a flying ace who built up the nation's air force and helped bring about the Jewish state's first peace treaty with an Arab country, died Sunday. He was 80.
Weizman, who was president from 1993 to 2000, had suffered from respiratory infections in recent months and was repeatedly hospitalized. He died shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday at his home in the northern Israeli resort town of Caesarea with his family by his bedside, according to a statement by Weizman's successor, President Moshe Katsav.
Israeli radio said the funeral was tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
In three decades in political life, he made a highly public transition from hawk to dove, saying the Jews had to learn to "share this part of the world" with the Arabs.
As defense minister in 1979, he was instrumental in negotiating Israel's peace treaty with Egypt.
Weizman, a political moderate who pioneered contacts with Palestinian leaders, later resigned from then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Cabinet, complaining about his strict interpretation of interim peace accords with Egypt. Ariel Sharon, now Israel's premier, replaced Weizman as defense minister.
His last year as president was marred by scandal when he became the target of a police investigation into fraud and breach of public trust, but he was not indicted.
Weizman was born in the northern port city of Haifa on June 15, 1924. His uncle, Chaim Weizmann, was Israel's first president.
He learned to fly at 16 and in World War II underwent flight training in the British army, later serving as a fighter pilot in Egypt and India.
He was appointed commander of the Israeli air force in 1958.
In 1969, he retired from the military and joined the nationalist Herut Party. He was appointed minister of transportation in the coalition government of Golda Meir but lost his job when Herut, which later became the Likud bloc, walked out of the Cabinet in 1970.
In 1977, Weizman made a secret trip to Egypt. That trip -- and the friendship he formed with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat -- served as a catalyst to the negotiations that culminated in the U.S.-sponsored Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt in 1978.
After the Palestinian uprising began in 1987, Weizman advocated negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, then outlawed in Israel as a terrorist organization, and its leader, Yasser Arafat.