Israelis Pay Final Respects to Ariel Sharon

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“These are tears of pain and parting but also joy in a way for him since now he can finally rest,” she said. “He was a leader you could count on, someone you could trust. He looked into the future, relied on the experience of the past and had the courage to make tough decisions and carry them out.”

Norman Zysblat, 64, called Sharon a “hero of Israel,” whose death left the 90-year-old Peres as perhaps the last remnant of Israel’s greatest generation. He recalled crossing the Suez Canal in 1973 under Sharon’s command, a move widely seen as turning a war against Egypt and Syria in Israel’s favor.

“I saw and felt firsthand the strength he gave the soldiers. He was the one who pushed ahead and provided the spirit,” Zysblat said. “He was one of the greats. When the history of Israel is written, he will be in the first row.”

News of Sharon dominated Israeli newspapers. Israel’s three main television stations all broadcast the memorial live.

A state memorial is planned for Monday at parliament followed by a funeral service at Sharon’s ranch in southern Israel. Under Jewish law, funerals are to be carried out as soon as possible. But in a ritual reserved only for former prime ministers and presidents of Israel, the coffin lays in state at parliament to allow citizens to bid farewell.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others are expected to attend Monday’s ceremonies.

Sharon’s life will be remembered for its three distinct stages: First, was his eventful and controversial time in uniform, including leading a deadly raid in the West Bank that killed 69 Arabs, as well as his heroics in the 1973 Mideast war.

Then came his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel’s settlement movement and masterminded the divisive Lebanon invasion in 1982. He was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. An uproar over the massacre cost him his job.

Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman, capped by a dramatic 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Sharon appeared to be cruising toward re-election when he suffered his stroke in January 2006.

(AP Photo: Members of the Knesset guard carry the coffin of late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014.)

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