Israel bids farewell to former PM Ariel Sharon
The memorial events for late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday, were underway Monday morning with a memorial ceremony held in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament building.
The special memorial ceremony was attended by family members, politicians and world leaders, including US Vice President Joe Biden, former British prime minister and member of the Middle East Quartet Tony Blair, as well as Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Xinhua reported.
Biden, who was one of the most senior figures to attend the ceremony, said he knew Sharon from 30 years ago, and understood why people called him a "bulldozer".
"He was built in a strong way. When I met him as a young senator it was impossible not to notice that he has the presence of a commander," Biden said.
"Sharon was a complex man who lived in complex times in a complex neighbourhood," he said.
"Like all historic leaders, he had a North Star that guided him - his North Star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people," Biden added.
Commenting on the current relations between Israel and the US, he said: "As (US) President Obama said when he was here in Jerusalem, whoever rejects Israel's right of existence can just as easily reject the fact there's land under our feet. Israel is not going anywhere, and as long as the United States is here, you're not alone."
"Sharon left us too early, but the effort to (establish) peace would continue," Biden concluded.
Tony Blair, who worked with Sharon when the two were prime ministers in the early 2000s, also spoke at the memorial service.
"Sharon took actions that no one thought he would take - the road map and the disengagement from Gaza - but his strategy remained one - to protect the country for which he had fought for generations," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sharon's impressive military service, from the war of independence to the war of Yom Kippur, showed his courage and his major contribution to Israel's security.
"As a prime minister and a minister he insisted on our right to act to defend ourselves in order to live here in security, a right we insist upon and is a necessary condition for our existence and for the existence of peace," Netanyahu added.
He also talked about the difference of opinions the two had, especially on the topic of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which Netanyahu had vehemently opposed.
"I had not always agreed with Arik (as Sharon was also called) and he didn't always agree with me, but when he served in my government and I served in his, we worked together in cooperation for the security of Israel and its economy," Netanyahu said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres talked about his long time acquaintance with Sharon, and called him "the shoulder on whom Israel's security rested" and his major contribution to the country throughout the main cornerstones of its existence.
"When I met Arik... I felt that before me stood an extraordinary man with the desire and the rare quality to serve his people until the end," Peres said.
"The story of his life is bound to (be) the story of this country... His footprints are imprinted on every hill and in every valley. He took and implemented the difficult decisions," he added
Other world dignitaries who arrived in Israel for a day of ceremonies include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeir and Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the funeral convoy left Jerusalem for Sharon's farm in the Negev, where he will be buried in a military ceremony, with a stop at a military monument near Jerusalem where a private ceremony will be held for military personnel.
(Posted on 13-01-2014)