Middle East

Israel stages state memorial for Ariel Sharon

Hundreds of Israeli VIPs and international dignitaries attend the state memorial of the former Israeli prime minister.

Last updated: 13 Jan 2014 11:37
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Thousands of Israelis paid their respects to the former leader in front of parliament on Sunday [AP]

Hundreds of Israeli VIPs and foreign dignitaries have attended the memorial service of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Monday's state ceremony remembered the controversial Sharon as a fearless warrior. US Vice President Joe Biden talked about a decades-long friendship with Sharon, saying his death felt "like a death in the family".

Biden added that he understood how Sharon earned the nickname "The Bulldozer", as he would repeatedly make the same points and drive them home during meetings.

Though not everyone was a Sharon supporter. As a reminder of the precarious security situation in Israel, Palestinian fighters fired two rockets from the Gaza strip on Monday despite warnings from Israel not to do so.

But the missiles did not reach Israel and no injuries were reported.

Israel had increased security for Sharon's memorial and funeral near the Gaza border in anticipation of potential violence from Palestine.

"It was made clear to them that tomorrow would be a very bad day for anyone there to test Israel's patience," said a security source, who spoke to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity on Sunday.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said there had been no launches across the border and Israeli media said the blasts appeared to have resulted from Palestinian fighters testing their weapons.

Gaza is ruled by the Hamas movement, which has engaged in several rounds of violence with Israel over the past few years.

Hero and criminal

At times of heightened tension, Israel often boosts helicopter and drone patrols of Gaza to locate Palestinian rocket crews and hit them with guided missiles before they carry out launches.

Israeli station, Channel Two television reported earlier that Israel was redeploying its Iron Dome rocket interceptor for improved protection of Sharon's Sycamore Ranch, which has been hit by rockets in the past.

Sharon died at the age of 85 on Saturday after eight years in a stroke-induced coma.

Thousands of Israelis paid their respects to the former leader on Sunday, as his body laid in state in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Sharon fought in all of Israel's major wars, but switched to politics in 1973, pushing for development of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Among those attending Monday's service were Sharon's two sons, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Sharon's coffin is now being taken on a short funeral procession to west Jerusalem. He will then be buried later on Monday next to his wife Lili at the family's Sycamore ranch in the southern Negev desert near Gaza.


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