Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's body lay in state on Sunday outside parliament in Jerusalem, where thousands of Israelis waited to bid farewell to the maverick warrior-statesman who reshaped the Middle East.
Sharon will be buried on Monday afternoon at his southern ranch after a ceremony earlier in the day in parliament, army radio said. The 85-year-old died in hospital near Tel Aviv Saturday after eight years in a coma.
While world leaders paid tribute on Saturday to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling him a patriot who made “brave decisions,” Palestinians labeled him as a “criminal.”
President Barack Obama led U.S. tributes to late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday, remembering him as “a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.”
“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel,” a White House statement said.
“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” it added.
Mourning Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sharon “was first and foremost a brave warrior and great strategist, among the greatest of Israel Defense Force commanders,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
The Israeli President Shimon Peres, a former political ally of Sharon said “Arik was a valorous soldier and a bold statesman who contributed much to the security and building up of the State of Israel.”
“Arik loved his people, and his people loved him,” Peres said, using the nickname of Sharon.
He added: “He knew no fear and never feared pursuing a vision.”
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians were handing out sweets to the passersby and motorists in celebration of Sharon’s death.
A senior official, who called Sharon a criminal, said the late prime minister was responsible for the mysterious death of the veteran Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
“Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal,” Jibril Rajub, a senior official of the Fatah party said.
An Israeli commission also found Sharon as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds by Israeli-allied Christian militiamen at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982 during Israel’s war to root out Palestinian guerrillas.
When Sharon was Israel’s foreign minister in 1998, he urged his Jewish settlers to take over as much West Bank land as possible before a permanent territorial agreement with Palestinians.
Nicknamed “The Bulldozer,” Sharon fought in all of Israel’s major wars before embarking on a political career in 1973.
Sharon, who died in hospital near Tel Aviv, was warmly remembered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that the long-ill ex-premier was “finally at rest.”