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Levi Eshkol, Israel’s Third Premier, Dead at 73; Allon Named to Serve Temporarily

February 27, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of Israel died early this morning following a heart attack at his official residence where he had been recovering from an attack of influenza. A physician was summoned to his bedside shortly after 3 A.M. Jerusalem time (8 P.M. New York Standard Time) when he complained of chest pains. Death came at 8:15 A.M. (1:15 A.M. New York Standard Time). Mr. Eshkol was 73 years old and had suffered two previous heart attacks since 1965. Frequent illnesses in recent months had necessitated his delegation of some functions to his Cabinet colleagues. Public announcement of the death of Israel’s third Prime Minister was not made until an hour and three-quarters after his physician, Dr. Moshe Ramilevitz, had pronounced him dead. The news was broadcast over Kol Israel and a mourning crowd assembled almost immediately before his residence in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem, standing there in silence, many weeping openly. An urgent meeting of the Cabinet was held at the Prime Minister’s residence and agreed on Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon as Acting Prime Minister for the next 30 days. Mr. Eshkol’s term of office would have ended next October when general elections were scheduled. He announced his intention of seeking resignation to the Premiership.

Announcement was made that Mr. Eshkol’s body will lie in state in the Knesset Building here beginning tomorrow. Funeral services will be held Friday with interment in the Pantheon of the Nation’s Great on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. At the services, the Army’s Chief Chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Isser Untermann will deliver prayers. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim will perform the “keriah” ceremony–the tearing of clothing of the nearest relative. The funeral procession will pass along a two-mile-long route from the Knesset to Mount Herzl so that hundreds of thousands will see it. Mr. Eshkol will be buried near former President Itzhak Ben-Zvi, former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, and the Zionist Revisionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky

As the news of the Prime Minister’s death became known, the country went into mourning. Flags were lowered to half-mast and all places of entertainment were closed. Mourning for a man who was one of the pillars of the world Zionist movement and of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, as well as one of the founders of the State of Israel, was mixed here with concern the effect of his sudden death would have on the domestic political situation and on Israel’s International position.

Mr. Eshkol and his closest associates, Minister Without Portfolio Pinhas Sapir and former Foreign Minister Golda Meir, were firmly in control of the Israel Labor Party and machinery and were able to keep personal rivalries with regard to the succession in check. The party, with its political alignment with the Mapam Party, has a parliamentary majority. Mr. Eshkol’s announcement that he would seek to retain the premiership after the October general elections had averted a bitter struggle within the party by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Deputy Prime Minister Allon, and possibly others, to succeed Mr. Eshkol. Political observers here today were concerned that with Mr. Eshkol’s death, the country would now have to face this struggle at a time when international pressures called for unity on the part of Israelis.

Israeli officials dismissed as utter nonsense claims immediately broadcast by the Arab terrorist organization, El Fatah, that Mr. Eshkol had died as a result of wounds suffered when the terrorists shelled his residence in Degania last week. They pointed out that Mr. Eshkol had not been in Degania since the beginning of the month.

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