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Friday, 24 January 2014 | MYT 6:25 PM

Israeli champion of Palestinian and women's rights dies

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Shulamit Aloni, a fiery former left-wing Israeli leader and cabinet minister who championed Palestinian and women's rights, died on Friday, family and colleagues said. She was 85.

Aloni founded a civil libertarian faction in the 1970's after quitting then Prime Minister Golda Meir's Labour party in a dispute over religious influence in government. Her movement evolved into a tiny party that is still in Israel's parliament.

Born in Tel Aviv, Aloni had advocated the formation of a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel during the 1967 war, long before a Washington-brokered peace process that is still searching for an elusive deal.

A 30-year veteran of Israel's parliament, Aloni served as education minister and later communications minister in the late Yitzhak Rabin's government in the early 1990's. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli ultranationalist protesting a 1993 interim deal with the Palestinians.

Aloni continued her activism long past her retirement from politics in 1996, demanding at a 2011 Tel Aviv peace rally "the complete end of occupation."

She was mourned by political friends and foes alike. In a written statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, said:

"Despite the deep differences between us over the years, I admired her contribution to Israeli public life and Aloni's determination to stand up firmly for her beliefs."

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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