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Thousands gather in Jerusalem to bid farewell to Ariel Sharon


Israel

Thousands gather in Jerusalem to bid farewell to Ariel Sharon

As the body of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lay in state in Jerusalem, thousands of well-wishers filed past his coffin to pay their last respects.

Among the first visitors was Israeli President Shimon Peres, visibly moved by the death of his friend.

Other world figures are expected to bid farewell to Sharon at a memorial service in Jerusalem on Monday.

In a coma since 2006, Sharon’s death at the age of 85 was not a great surprise.

He was a contentious figure in life and his death has provoked mixed reactions.

“He was a controversial figure. But I think anybody who has to make decisions and actually do something, will always have controversial decisions,” said one well-wisher in Jerusalem. “He’s a man who played a pivotal role in Israeli history and is a hero by any kind of objective standard.”

Another passer-by spoke of Sharon’s famous decision to withdraw settlers from Gaza, paraphrasing a statement the leader made during his time as prime minister.

“Of course, some people are annoyed with him because they think he has betrayed their ideals. He said: ‘From where I am, I see things that I did not see from where I used to be’. That’s the reality of the situation.

“Personally, I think his decision to withdraw from Gaza was the right one. It was necessary. I think most Israelis owe a lot to him, and respect him.”

The Israeli Cabinet also paid their respects at the Knesset, observing a minute’s silence in honour of the man who many Israelis will remember as brilliant but unpredictable.

As a former army commander turned politician, Ariel Sharon will be given a military funeral on Monday at his ranch in the Negev desert. Prior to this, a state ceremony in honour of his life will be held at the Knesset.

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