Israel holds state funeral service for ex-PM Ariel Sharon

Israel holds the burial service for former PM Ariel Sharon, earlier lauded at a state memorial as an "indomitable" defender of his people. REUTERS
The state funeral service for Israel\’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took place Monday morning amid tight security, and against the backdrop of a crisp and sunny winter morning.
Israel has paid its final respects to former prime minister Ariel Sharon at civil and military services before his burial at his home in the Negev desert
Israeli and foreign dignitaries praised the veteran politician and military commander, Ariel Sharon, during a memorial service at the Knesset – the Israeli parliament.
Israel\’s president, Shimon Peres, called him an exceptional soldier who knew how to win.
Peres said rest, great leader, who did not allow himself to rest when serving his people, defending his country and making its fields blossom.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and  Sharon did not always agree but when in government together they cooperated for the security and economy of the country.
He said Sharon was a practical and pragmatic man whose pragmatism was full of deep feelings for his country and the Jewish people.
Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85. He had been in a coma for eight years after suffering a stroke while prime minister.A veteran of four Arab-Israeli wars from 1948 to 1973, he was an independent commander who entered politics after his military career ended.
He was revered by some Israelis and criticized by others. He was generally condemned by Palestinians for his tough military tactics and offensives in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said like all real leaders Sharon had a north star that guided him.
"His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided," he said.
Britain\’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed, saying Sharon never wavered from this strategic objective.
"The state which from the age of 14 he fought to bring into being had to be protected for future generations. When that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he sought peace. And the same iron determination he took to the field of war, he took to the chamber of diplomacy," said Blair.
Security was tightened in southern Israel prior to Sharon\’s burial at his ranch some 10 kilometers east of the Gaza Strip. The anti-rocket defense system, called Iron Dome, was deployed in the area amid reports of rocket firing.
Sharon, while prime minister in 2005, ordered an Israeli military operation in Gaza in which more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
He subsequently ordered the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza.
A long-time member of the conservative Likud party, he broke away to form the centrist Kadima party the same year. He called elections for March 2006 but suffered the stroke two months before they were held.
Source: VOA and agencies
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