UK & World News

  • 12 January 2014, 21:40

Ariel Sharon: Israelis Pay Respects At Coffin

Thousands of Israelis have filed past the body of ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pay their respects a day after his death.

Mr Sharon's coffin sat in the plaza outside the Knesset in Jerusalem until 6pm local time (4pm UK time) for mourners to pay their respects.

Earlier, Israeli ministers held a minute's silence as they met for their weekly cabinet meeting.

Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet: "He will be remembered in the heart of the Jewish people forever as one of our most outstanding leaders and most daring commanders."

Mr Sharon will be buried on Monday afternoon at his ranch in the Negev desert, in southern Israel, during a military ceremony.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was among those expected to attend.

Mr Sharon had been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January 2006.

His condition deteriorated on New Year's Day when he suffered serious kidney problems after surgery.

Mr Netanyahu said "his memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation", while President Shimon Peres said he would be "greatly missed".

World leaders also sent condolences, with US President Barack Obama describing him as a leader who "dedicated his life to the State of Israel".

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a US delegation to the memorial service due to be held in parliament on Monday before the burial.

Nicknamed "The Bulldozer", Mr Sharon was a veteran soldier who fought in all of Israel's major wars before beginning a turbulent political career in 1973.

He was elected premier in 2001 despite experiencing a period in the political wilderness because of his personal but "indirect" responsibility for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians.

Ministers in Israel's right-wing government and the political opposition have mourned a leader who left big footprints on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a unilateral decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In Gaza, Hamas has welcomed Mr Sharon's death and celebrated in the streets.

"We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi said.

"Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated.

"Israel has today lost an important leader."

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