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Last updated: January 12, 2014 4:09 pm
Ariel Sharon’s body was brought from Tel Aviv to the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday to lie in state ahead of a military funeral planned for Monday, as Israelis marked the passing of the controversial and larger-than-life former rightwing prime minister and wartime leader.
Sharon, who died on Saturday afternoon at age 85, will be buried on a hilltop overlooking his family’s Sycamore Ranch in the southern Negev region, alongside the grave of his late wife Lily.
The former leader, who served as Israel’s prime minister from 2001-05, will be given a military funeral, with his casket to be borne by eight Israel Defence Force generals.
Joe Biden, US vice-president, Jiri Rusnok, the Czech prime minister, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who heads the Middle East Quartet, are among the foreign dignitaries due to attend Monday’s ceremony.
Sharon died in hospital in Tel Aviv after eight years in a coma, after his vital organs failed and his heart stopped beating, doctors said.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called a minute of silence at his weekly cabinet meeting to mark the passing of Sharon, whom he said was “among the Jewish People’s greatest generals in the current era and throughout its history”.
Vladimir Putin, Russian president, was among the foreign leaders who paid tribute to Sharon at the weekend, calling him an “outstanding statesman and military commander”. George W Bush, former US president, whose term in office coincided with the late Israeli leader’s, said Sharon was “a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East”.
Ban-Ki Moon, UN secretary-general, said through a spokesman that he was “saddened” by Sharon’s death. Sharon will be remembered for having carried out “the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip” in 2006.
Some Israelis went to the Knesset on Sunday to view Sharon’s casket, draped in an Israeli flag, although the numbers were modest for a man who had been absent from public life since suffering a cerebral haemorrhage in January 2006.
“He was a very brave soldier who was in the right place at the right time when the state was established and he knew how to change his mind when the time came, said Ayala Wiesel, a lawyer who travelled from the coastal city of Netanya to pay her respects on Sunday. “History will remember him as one of the brave people who made Israel into the state it is now.”
Among Palestinians, Sharon’s death revived bitter memories of his role in violent military campaigns, from his Unit 101’s raid in 1948 of the West Bank village of Qibya, in which 69 people died, to the 1982 massacre of more than 1,000 refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and Israel’s violent incursions into the West Bank to suppress the second intifada two decades later.
“He left a legacy and a precedent in Palestine that is characterised by bloodshed, cruelty, lawlessness and total disregard for human rights and human lives,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, said in a telephone interview. “People describe him as a bulldozer, but a bulldozer is relatively benign compared to what he did. He left an impact whose influence is with us to this day.”
Unfortunately, there are no other people among us like this man
- Yossi Verter, Haaretz newspaper
Israeli television channels gave Sharon’s death and its aftermath blanket coverage and front pages of Sunday’s newspapers were dominated by the news and analysis of his achievements. “The life of Ariel Sharon and the life of the state of Israel were intertwined into a single cord,” Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
Many of the reflections focused on Sharon’s career as a war-making rightwinger who late in life became an advocate of an independent Palestinian state and drew a line from his legacy to the failure of Mr Netanyahu’s government to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Yossi Verter, writing in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, compared Sharon to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding leader, and said he had “the capacity to decide as well as to lead”. “Unfortunately, there are no other people among us like this man,” he added.
Meanwhile, Orit Struck, a far-right member of the Knesset from Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party, caused controversy at the weekend in comments on her Facebook page in which she praised God for the fact that “Sharon was taken from public life before succeeding in wreaking the same disaster on residents of Judea and Samaria”, as Israelis call the West Bank, as he had on Gaza.
After a public outcry and criticism from Mr Bennett over the comments, Ms Struck apologised.
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