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Israelis Mourn Ariel Sharon

  • Scott Bobb

Members of the Knesset guard carry the flag-draped coffin of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem Jan. 12, 2014.
Israelis are mourning former prime minister and military commander Ariel Sharon who died Saturday after a long illness. The funeral service Monday at the country's parliament will be followed by a private funeral at Sharon's ranch in the Negev desert, in southern Israel.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former British prime minister Tony Blair are among those speaking at the memorial. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said officials from Russia, Germany, Spain, Canada and the Czech Republic are also among those attending the service.

On Sunday, thousands of Israelis filed past the coffin of the former prime minister as he lay in state at the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a moment of silence at the weekly Cabinet meeting, said Sharon represented a generation of Jewish warriors who arose with Israel’s modern-day independence.

He said that Sharon understood above all that our independence is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. And he concluded that Sharon will be remembered as one of the most outstanding leaders and daring commanders in the heart of the Jewish people forever.

​Israeli President Shimon Peres laid a wreath at the coffin. Earlier he mourned him in a televised address Saturday night.

"He knew no fear. He took difficult decisions and implemented them courageously... I shall miss him dearly and remember him lovingly," said Peres.

Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85. He had spent the past eight years in a coma following a stroke.

A war hero and seasoned politician, he was known for his tough independence. He was revered by many Israelis, but criticized by others.

Palestinians reviled him for his aggressive military tactics and construction of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Ariel Sharon

  • Born in 1928 in farming community north of Tel Aviv
  • Joined underground Jewish military organization Haganah in 1942
  • Fought as platoon commander in Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49
  • Led Commando Unit 101 that carries out reprisal raids in 1953
  • Led paratroopers in the 1956 Suez War
  • Elected member of parliament in 1973
  • Served as security advisor to then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin
  • Appointed defense minister in 1981
  • Led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, resigns after being found responsible for failing to prevent massacres in Palestinian refugee camps
  • Appointed minister of housing and construction in 1990
  • Appointed foreign minister in 1997
  • Elected prime minister in 2001, one year after controversial visit to the Temple Mount
  • Directed the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005
  • Established the Kadima party in 2005, new elections set for March 2006
  • Has been in a coma since a massive stroke on Jan. 4, 2006
He was criticized for the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and held partially responsible for failing to prevent the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in two refugee camps in Beirut that year.

He led a military offensive into Gaza in 2005 in which more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed. But he subsequently unilaterally withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlers from the enclave.

Some residents of Gaza celebrated and handed out candies when Sharon's death was announced.

The spokesman of the Hamas group that gained control of Gaza in 2007 following the Israeli withdrawal, Sami Abu Zuhri, called it a historic moment.

He said the death of Sharon after eight years in a coma is something from God and an example to all tyrants.

A senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization that controls the West Bank, Wasel Abu Yusef, said Sharon tried to uproot the Palestinian nation from its land and prevent the establishment of the Palestinian state.

He said he thinks the Palestinian nation connects the death of Sharon with what he did, the offensives and the crimes against the Palestinian people.