Israel is mourning the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed along with his wife and other officials in a plane crash in Russia. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu eulogized him as a “great friend of Israel."
"I knew President Kaczynski as a Polish patriot, as a great friend of Israel,” the Prime Minister said in an official statement on Shabbat. “President Kaczynski led an important process for opening a new page in relations between the Polish and Jewish peoples.”
President Shimon Peres stated, “The news of the tragic accident that has taken the lives of my friend, President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria Kaczynski, and prominent members of Poland's leadership and its Parliament, has been received with a great deal of pain, shock and distress. President Kaczynski and his wife did much to promote closer ties between the Polish and Jewish peoples, making a significant contribution to the healing process of the scars of the past and the building of a common better future.
"The State of Israel bows its head, as it partakes in the deep sorrow of the Polish people on the occasion of their dreadful loss.”
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Askenazi said that the Polish leader "especially touched my heart, his great interest in the journey of military officers to concentration camps in Poland in the framework of the Witnesses in Uniform program. We discussed this at length and it was very important to him that young IDF officers meet with young officers in the Polish Armed Forces and get to know the new generation who is educated about the Holocaust."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented, "We were shocked by his tragic disappearance. Our heart is with the Polish people. He was a real friend of Israel and the Jewish people. He proved this with actions, especially by forging an important strategic alliance with us.”
The crash in foggy weather in the Russian city of Smolensk came three days before an Israeli delegation is scheduled to participate in Holocaust Day events at the sites of Nazi death camps in Poland.
All 97 people on board, including top political and military leaders of Poland, are believed to have died in the accident. The chief of the Polish armed forces, the deputy foreign minister, the head of the central bank and dozens of legislators and other officials were on board the ill-fated plane. It is suspected that the pilot ignored several warnings from Russian air controllers.
The airplane was on its way to memorial services in an area in Russia where Soviet forces killed 22,000 Poles 70 years ago.