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Israel Mourns Sharon

Israel says the body of former prime minister Ariel Sharon will lie in state for several hours Sunday in Jerusalem's Knesset (parliament) where mourners can pay their respects.

Mr. Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85 following complications from a massive stroke eight years ago. He had been in a coma since then.

A state memorial is planned for Monday with the participation of Israeli and world leaders, followed by a private burial at Mr. Sharon's ranch in the Negev desert in southern Israel. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will lead an American delegation to pay respects in Israel Monday.

Shlomo Noy, a director at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, said Mr. Sharon died "in peace" with his family at his side.



Noy said Mr. Sharon had never regained full consciousness after going into a coma in 2006. He also said the former Israeli leader showed remarkable strength after his vital organs began to fail a week ago.



"Over the past week [Mr. Sharon] struggled with surprising strength and determination against the deterioration in his condition."



Israel's current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said there is "deep sorrow" in the Jewish state over Mr. Sharon's death. Mr. Netanyahu says the former leader will live forever in the nation's heart.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders sent condolence messages to Israel and Mr. Sharon's family. Palestinians who had seen the former minister as a bitter enemy rejoiced at the news of his death.

Mr. Sharon was one of Israel's most influential and controversial figures, as both a military commander and a political leader.

As a military leader, he drew international condemnation for a 1953 reprisal raid on the Jordanian town of Qibya. The attack left 69 people dead, most of them women and children. Israel launched the raid after a woman and her two children were killed in the town of Yehud.

As defense minister in 1982, he led an invasion of Lebanon following a series of attacks by Palestinian gunmen based in the country. During the invasion, members of a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel killed hundreds of people at Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. A government probe of the incident led to Mr. Sharon's resignation.

As a politician, Mr. Sharon championed territory-expanding Zionism for most of his life. However, in 2005 he stunned the world and some allies when he decided to withdraw all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

He then left his Likud Party and formed a centrist Kadima movement, which promoted further territorial withdrawal to create a separate Palestinian state.

World negotiators, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, are currently trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a framework peace deal that leads to a two-state solution.

Natan Sachs is a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. In a VOA interview, he said Mr. Sharon has "many legacies" - as a military general and as Israel's leader.



"A very beloved prime minister, one that many Israelis turned to as a certain father figure. A very seasoned politician, in contrast to much younger politicians who seem to have failed, such as [Benjamin] Netanyahu, such as Ehud Barak. Sharon seemed to be the very steady hand in the very traumatic days of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) in the early 2000s."



Omri Ceren is a senior adviser at The Israel Project, a pro-Israel nonprofit group in Washington. He told VOA Mr. Sharon is a figure of "overarching importance" in Israel's history for his role in reshaping the country's civil and military sectors.



"Sharon was both a military hero - at times, arguably one of the country's greatest military heroes in the aftermath of particular wars - but also a political giant," Ceren said. "He, in the military context, was thought to have been critical to winning - to literally, quite literally, winning - entire theaters during wars like the Yom Kippur War, the 1973 war. And politically, he quite literally redrew Israel's electoral map."



Mr. Sharon served as prime minister from 2001 until his 2006 stroke left him in a coma.
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