Israeli officials and international dignitaries bid farewell to the late Ariel Sharon at a state ceremony on Monday, remembering the controversial former prime minister as a fearless warrior and bold leader who devoted his life to protecting his country’s security.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed the long list of visitors who attended the ceremony outside Israel’s parliament building. Later on Monday, Sharon’s body is to be buried at his farm in southern Israel.
“Arik was a man of the land,” President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and sometimes rival of Sharon, said in his eulogy. “He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe.”
Mr. Sharon died on Saturday; eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma from which he never recovered. He was 85.
“I didn’t always agree with Arik and he didn’t always agree with me,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Mr. Sharon’s government to protest the Gaza withdrawal. Nonetheless, he called Mr. Sharon “one of the big warriors” for the nation of Israel.
In his address, Joe Biden talked about a decades—long friendship with Mr. Sharon, saying the death felt “like a death in the family.”
“He was indomitable,” Mr. Biden said. “But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided,” Biden said.
Mr. Sharon’s coffin has been lying in state at the Knesset’s outdoor plaza where Israelis across the country paid respects throughout Sunday.
In addition to Biden and Blair, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and foreign ministers of Australia and Germany were among those in attendance for the memorial. Even Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, sent a low-level diplomat, its embassy said.
After the ceremony ended, the closed coffin, draped in a blue and white Israeli flag, was placed in a military vehicle and driven in a police-escorted convoy toward Mr. Sharon’s ranch.
Crowds stood along the roadside and on bridges, snapping pictures and getting a final glimpse of the coffin.