Thousands pay last respects to Ariel Sharon

Israelis line up to say goodbye to former prime minister who will be given a state funeral on Monday.

    Thousands of Israelis came to pay their respects to Ariel Sharon on Sunday, as the body of the former Israeli leader lay in state in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, for most of the day.

    President Shimon Peres placed a wreath near the coffin, which was wrapped in a blue and white Israeli flag.

    The body was driven to the Knesset from an army base near the hospital outside Tel Aviv where Sharon died on Saturday.

    A state memorial is planned for Monday, the prime minister's office said, and several Israeli and international leaders are expected to attend.

    Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Sharon family members will speak during the memorial.

    US Vice President Joe Biden, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others will also attend, it added.

    Afterwards Sharon's body will be taken by military convoy for burial at his ranch in the country's southern Negev desert. Israeli generals will serve as pallbearers.

    One of Israel's most controversial figures, Sharon had been in a coma for eight years after a devastating stroke incapacitated him at the peak of his political power.

    'Pariah'

    Celebrated as a military hero by some, recognised as a pragmatic politician by others and despised as a bloodthirsty criminal by his foes, Sharon was a polarising figure at home and abroad.

    News of his death and tales of his exploits dominated Israel's newspapers and TV stations on Sunday.

    Sharon's career stretched across Israel's 65-year existence and his life was closely intertwined with the country's history.

    As one of Israel's most famous generals, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders.

    Sharon was once known chiefly as a ruthless military leader who fought in all of Israel's major wars, before switching to politics in 1973 and championing the development of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

    He was long considered a pariah for his personal but "indirect" responsibility in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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