Israel Bids Farewell to Ariel Sharon

Harinder Mishra/Jerusalem
Israel Bids Farewell to Ariel Sharon
File-AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Israel Bids Farewell to Ariel Sharon

Thousands of people today paid their last respects to former premier Ariel Sharon whose death evoked contrasting reactions with Israelis hailing him as a hero and the Arab world panning him as a "criminal".

The former prime minister and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) general will be laid to rest tomorrow, at his family's Sycamore Ranch in the Negev. He will be buried next to Lily, his wife of 37 years and mother of his two surviving sons.

Thousands of people visited the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), to pay their last respects to Sharon, who died yesterday at the age of 85, after eight years in a coma following a severe stroke at the height of his power in 2006.

Culture Minister Limor Livnat, who heads the Knesset's Ceremonies Committee, confirmed today that Sharon will receive a state funeral with a military ceremony.

"Following a memorial service in the Knesset Sharon's funeral procession will leave towards the Sycamore Ranch for a small service. The funeral itself will be a state funeral and the ceremony a military one," Livnat announced.

Eight IDF generals will carry Sharon's casket from the Knesset to the site of the funeral.

Peres, Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Sharon's two sons Omri and Gilad, US Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be among those expected to speak at the service, Livnat said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also likely to attend Sharon's last rites, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Sharon, a hardliner revered by Israelis as "Mr Security" for his contributions in all the major wars fought by Tel Aviv and reviled across the Arab world as the "butcher of Sabra and Shatila", was elected prime minister in 2001 and served until he suffered a stroke that left him comatose.

A controversial military leader, Sharon had a long and tumultuous political career and his ruthless methods earned him the moniker "The Bulldozer".

While serving as defence minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel's invasion of Lebanon. During the invasion, Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in two Beirut refugee camps - Sabra and Shatila - under Israeli control.

Sharon was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in 2003, eleven years after the two countries established diplomatic ties.

"Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of (Palestinian president Yasser) Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal," Jibril Rajoub, a senior official of the Fatah party, said yesterday.

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