Hundreds of Kurds attended a memorial service in the northern Iraqi city of Duhok today to pay their respects to Israeli statesman Shimon Peres who died on Tuesday at age 93, the Kurdish Rudaw news agency has reported.
According to the organisers, the two-day ceremony is for Kurds to "honor and remember a friend" who showed support for the establishment of a Kurdish state.
"Peres was one if the first – if not the only – head of state who openly showed support for Kurdish independence and we are here to remember him as a friend," Baiar Zaweti, one of the organisers, told Rudaw.
Peres, who served as Israel's prime minister and president and remained an influential figure in Israel until his death, had frequently praised the Kurds for their "democratic aspirations" and publicly defended Kurdish statehood.
"The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic," he said in a meeting with US President Barack Obama in 2014. "One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also repeatedly declared his support for the creation of a Kurdish state, and in 2014 said that an independent Kurdistan would help in the formation of "an alliance of moderate powers" in the Middle East.
"We should…support the Kurdish aspiration for independence," Netanyahu told Tel Aviv think-tank in 2014, and praised the Kurdish people by describing them as "a nation of fighters [who] have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence."
Israel established ties with Kurdish separatist movements throughout the Middle East more than half a century ago, viewing them as a buffer and ally against shared Arab foes. After the illegal US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Israel was reported as having provided military support to Kurdish Peshmerga units.