Israeli top leaders not attending Mandela funeral

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem December …

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel, once an ally of South Africa's former apartheid rulers, will not be represented by its prime minister or president at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, officials said on Monday, citing costs and health reasons.

Palestinians, who hail South Africa's first black leader as an inspiration in a conflict with what they call Israeli "apartheid", will be represented by President Mahmoud Abbas - one of about 70 world leaders South Africa expects to welcome.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed Mandela as "a freedom fighter who rejected violence", will not attend Tuesday's ceremony in Johannesburg due to the costs of travel and security, aides said. President Shimon Peres, who is 90, had been advised by his doctors not to make the trip.

"The president is recovering from flu and doctors advised him not to fly," a spokesman for Peres said.

A Foreign Ministry official said the speaker of parliament or a cabinet minister could represent Israel at the funeral.

Like Mandela, Peres is a winner of the Nobel peace prize. As defence minister in the 1970s, he was also involved in military and trade ties with South Africa's white rulers. In 2010, he denied a newspaper report that Israel had offered to provide the apartheid state with nuclear weapons in 1975.

Netanyahu, whose government has been holding U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, was criticised in Israeli media in April for spending $127,000 fitting a bedroom into the chartered airliner that flew him the five hours to London for the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alastair Macdonald)

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