Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir died at the age of 96 in a Tel Aviv nursing home on Saturday.

He was the prime minister of the country from 1983 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 1992.

Shamir was battling poor health and Alzheimer's disease for the past several years and was living in a nursing home since 2004.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "deep sorrow" at the death of Shamir and said "[Shamir] belonged to a generation of giants who established the state and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in their homeland".

"He remained true to his beliefs, was a great patriot of his people and a great lover of Israel who served the nation loyally and with great dedication for many years," said Israel's President Shimon Peres in a statement.

Shamir was the seventh prime minister of Israel and the longest serving premier after David Ben-Gurion.

He was known as the first Israeli prime minister to attend a regional peace conference with Arab heads of state in Madrid in 1991. He even resisted pressures to retaliate for the missile attacks by Iraq during the 1990 Gulf war.

As prime minister, he facilitated the immigration of up to one million Jews from the former Soviet Union in 1989 and airlifted nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in May 1991.

Shamir was born on 15 October 1915 in the eastern Polish village of Ruzinoy, now a part of Belarus.

He became a member of a Zionist youth movement at 14. Later at the age of 20, he joined a radical military Jewish underground faction and became one of the leaders of the Stern Group (Lehi).

In his political career, Shamir became a foreign minister, Knesset speaker and head of the opposition. He also served as a Mossad agent.

Shamir will be buried after a state funeral at the Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Cemetery on Monday.