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JERUSALEM (AP) Ron Pundak, an Israeli academic and peace activist who was instrumental in initiating peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s, died Friday. He was 59.

Israeli media reported that Pundak died after a long illness.

Pundak helped initiate backdoor communications between Israel and the Palestinians that paved the way for interim peace accords between the two sides.

The agreements known as the Oslo Accords, after the secret talks in Norway that preceded them created the Palestinian Authority and set up autonomous zones for the Palestinians.

The landmark talks ultimately failed to yield a final peace agreement. Two decades and several rounds of violence later, peace remains elusive and the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are in disarray.

Israeli President Shimon Peres eulogized Pundak as a "warrior for peace," saying that he "dedicated his entire adult life to the fight for peace between us and our neighbors."

"He was a passionate man for whom peace burned like an eternal flame," Peres said. "It is hard to describe our talks with the Palestinians without mentioning his contribution."

Peres said Pundak "never gave up" pushing for peace with the Palestinians, "even when the situation seemed desperate."

United Nations Mideast envoy Robert Serry also mourned Pundak's passing.

"I knew Ron as somebody tirelessly working for peace," Serry said in a statement. "His legacy lives on in the hope that peace will one day be achieved and in the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

Pundak is survived by a wife and other family members. No details of funeral arrangements were immediately available.