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Middle east

Israelis pay last respects to Ariel Sharon at Knesset

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-12

The body of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s controversial former prime minister, arrived at Israel's parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday, where it will lie in state a day after he died aged 85.

“The public will be able to pay its respects until 18:00 (1600 GMT),” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. Thousands of Israelis are expected to pay tribute at the Knesset, police said.

A state memorial is planned for Monday with the participation of Israeli and world leaders, the prime minister’s office said.

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

Afterward Sharon’s body will be taken by military convey for a private burial at his ranch in southern Israel.

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

“It didn’t come as a surprise but tributes have been pouring in from Ariel Sharon’s many friends and enemies alike. He was a hugely divisive figure... Perhaps loved and hated in equal measure,” said FRANCE 24’s Irris Makler.

Story of a man and a nation

Sharon’s career stretched across Israel’s 65-year existence and his life was closely intertwined with the country’s history. News of Sharon’s passing and tales of his exploits dominated Israel’s newspapers and TV stations Sunday.

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

Historians credit him with helping turn the tide of the 1973 Mideast war when Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the solemn fasting day of Yom Kippur, causing large Israeli casualties.

As a politician, he became known as “the bulldozer”- a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done. He was elected prime minister in 2001.

In 2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements.

He later bolted from his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke in January 2006.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-01-12

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