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Canadian billionaire and real estate tycoon David Azrieli dead at 92

MONTREAL - David Azrieli, a billionaire real estate developer and philanthropist, died Wednesday at his summer home in rural Quebec, according to a statement from the foundation that bears his name. He was 92.

The statement from the Azrieli Foundation did not give a cause of death, but said Azrieli died peacefully at his country home in Ivry-sur-le-Lac, north of Montreal, surrounded by his family.

Azrieli, made his fortune building office towers, hotels and shopping centres in Canada, the United States and Israel. His wealth was pegged at some $2.9 billion by Forbes.

Born in Poland in 1922, Azrieli fled his homeland in 1939 at the age of 17 to avoid the German occupation, moving through several countries to evade the Nazis. Only Azrieli and a brother among his family survived the Holocaust, which claimed both his parents, another brother and a sister.

After the war, Azrieli fought in Israel's 1948 War of Independence before settling in Montreal in 1954 where he earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Montreal.

He launched his career in design, real estate development and property management in 1957 with the construction of four duplexes in Montreal, later expanding into major developments in both Canada and the U.S.

After success in North America, Azrieli began real estate developments in Israel in the mid-1980s.

Azrieli only stepped down as chairman of the Azrieli Group last week, Israeli media reported. The firm is the largest commercial and office real estate company in Israel.

The noted philanthropist promoted education and continuing education through the Azrieli Foundation. Azrieli himself practised what he promoted, earning a master's degree in architecture from Carleton University in 1997 at the age of 75.

In a statement, the foundation said Wednesday that Azrieli had a deep devotion to both Israel and Canada and in recent years split his time between homes in Quebec and Israel.

"I have two homelands," he once said, "two places I love and where I have been blessed to do what I love best."

"My opportunity to express myself professionally started in Canada and eventually let me fulfil my dream of making a contribution to my other homeland, Israel," said Azrieli, who was national president of the Canadian Zionist Federation in the 1980s and an active leader in the Jewish community throughout his life.

Azrieli is survived by his wife of 57 years, Stephanie Lefcourt, his four children and grandchildren.

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