Ariel Sharon: Israeli 'giant' is laid to rest amidst tight security

Divisive former PM praised as 'exceptional soldier' who always made Israel's safety his priority

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

ARIEL SHARON has been eulogised as one of Israel's "greatest military commanders" at a state memorial in Jerusalem attended by US vice-president Joe Biden.

But the former PM's divisive legacy – he was "widely loathed" by Arabs, says the BBC – meant that no-one from the Arab world, Africa or Latin America attended today's ceremonies.

Sharon, 85, died on Saturday after spending eight years in a coma. Thousands of mourners paid their respects to the statesman yesterday, filing past his coffin which lay in state outside the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

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The ceremonies – which include the memorial and a brief military service at Latrun, west of Jerusalem – will culminate with his burial at the Sycamore ranch he owned near Sderot, close to Gaza. He will be laid to rest next to his second wife, Lily, who died in 2000.

As well as Biden, today's memorial was attended by Middle East international envoy Tony Blair, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Czech PM Jiri Rusnok and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In an address to the memorial, Blair hailed Sharon as "a giant of this land" and paid tribute to Sharon's "idea that the Jewish people, so often victims of injustice and persecution, should have a state where they could be independent and free".

"Think good or ill of Ariel Sharon, agree or disagree with him, but that calling – a noble one – was plain and unalloyed," Blair said.

Biden also made a speech in front of Sharon's coffin, which was draped in Israel's blue and white national flag. Describing Sharon as "an exceptional soldier, a commander who knew how to win," Biden said the security of the Israeli people was the statesman's "unwavering mission".

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, also paid tribute to Sharon, but noted that he had not always "seen eye-to-eye" with him on policy issues, CBS News reports.

"Arik [Sharon's nickname] understood that in matters of our existence and security, we must stand firm. We are sticking to these principles," Netanyahu said.

The proximity of Sharon's resting place to the border with Gaza has caused Israel to "beef up" security, says Sky News. Authorities in Gaza have been warned that today would be a bad day to "test Israel's patience" with rocket attacks, a source said.

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