Ariel Sharon death: Israelis pay respects at Knesset

Ariel Sharon's coffin lay in state outside the parliament building

Thousands of Israelis have filed past the body of ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday aged 85 - after eight years in a coma.

Draped in a flag, his coffin lay in state outside the parliament building in Jerusalem.

A state funeral will take place on Monday before a military burial ceremony at his ranch near Sderot.

Israeli and world figures have paid tribute to Mr Sharon but there was little sorrow among Palestinians.

Analysis

Many Israelis felt they'd said goodbye to Ariel Sharon when he slipped into a coma eight years ago.

But the end of that long and agonising period for his family when he lay suspended between life and death has prompted an outpouring of grief and reflection.

Sharon was a part of the generation that created the state of Israel and even Israelis who didn't much care for his politics recognised his stature.

Shuttle buses will take members of the public to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament where his coffin will lie in state. One of the pick-up points will be at Latrun - an old British Army fortress on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where the young Ariel Sharon fought - and was seriously injured - in the war of independence back in 1948.

Given the bitterly divided history of the modern Middle East it's inevitable perhaps that a man eulogised by Israelis would be demonised by its Arab enemies. Nothing in that would have surprised Sharon who understood the region well and saw his role as the establishment and protection of the Jewish state in which he passionately believed..

Mr Sharon's body was brought to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) on Sunday morning and his coffin was then placed on a podium in the plaza outside the building, where it lay in state throughout the day.

Prayers were said as flags flew at half mast. President Shimon Peres laid a wreath and stood in silence beside the coffin.

A steady stream of thousands of people filed past the podium. Many took pictures while others lit candles in memory of the former leader.

The number of people grew as darkness fell, with some elderly mourners moved to tears.

Ministers held a minute's silence at Sunday's cabinet meeting to remember their former leader. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his colleagues that Mr Sharon was "tied to the land and knew that it had to be defended".

A state funeral will be held at the Knesset on Monday, before Mr Sharon's body is taken to his farm, Sycamore ranch, near Sderot in southern Israel where he will be buried in a military ceremony next to his wife Lili, who died in 2000.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to accompany the coffin on his final journey, Israeli army radio reports.

Dignitaries from around the world are thought likely to attend the Knesset memorial service, including US Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Middle East international envoy Tony Blair and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Ariel Sharon's funeral on Monday

  • 07:30 GMT Knesset state memorial service in Jerusalem attended by international dignitaries
  • Speeches from family members, President Shimon Peres, US Vice-President Joe Biden and Middle East envoy Tony Blair
  • Army-led funeral procession from Knesset to Ariel Sharon's farm
  • Stop-off on the way for private army ceremony at Latrun, where Ariel Sharon was wounded in 1948 war of independence
  • 12:00 GMT Military burial ceremony at Sycamore ranch, near Sderot
  • Selected invited guests and family present for burial beside Lili Sharon's grave; other members of public allowed to observe ceremony from a distance
President Shimon Peres lays wreath outside the Knesset (12 Jan 2014) President Shimon Peres laid a wreath adorned with the words "State of Israel"
President Shimon Peres lying in state Israelis have been given six hours to pay their last respects to their former prime minister

Mr Sharon, known as "The Bulldozer", was a giant of Israel's military and political scene, whose term as prime minister ended abruptly when he had a major stroke that put him in a coma in January 2006.

Months before his stroke, he had guided Israelis through a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, with the declared aim of easing tensions with the Palestinians.

Ariel Sharon's son Gilad visited his mother's grave, where his father is also expected to be buried (11 Jan 2014) Ariel Sharon's son Gilad visited his mother's grave, where his father is also expected to be buried
Sharon as defence minister Sharon was admired by Israelis for his military exploits and he made the natural transition to a political role

The BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said he had shaped the current state of the West Bank and Israel's relations with the Palestinians more than any other Israeli politician in recent years.

He fought in Israel's war of independence in 1948, took part in Israel's invasion of the Sinai in 1956 and commanded an armoured division in the 1967 Middle East war.

In 1973, he led Israel's counter-attack against Arab armies across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt's 3rd Army.

But after Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 he was found to have been responsible by an Israeli inquiry for failing to prevent the massacre of Palestinians by Christian Phalangist militia in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Ex-Vice PM Silvan Shalom Mr Sharon never shook the hand of Yasser Arafat

Jeremy Bowen looks back at Ariel Sharon's political and military career

Kevin Connolly reports from Jerusalem: ''Palestinians... saw Sharon as an enemy to be hated and feared''

Palestinians have denounced him as a war criminal and in the Gaza Strip people celebrated his death.

"He wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map... He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive," said Tawfik Tirawi, who served as Palestinian intelligence chief when Sharon was prime minister.

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