Israel’s former prime minister Ariel Sharon wins praise from US presidents, but universal disdain on the West Bank

Former leader tol be buried on a hilltop overlooking his family’s Sycamore Ranch in the southern Negev region, alongside his late wife Lily

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair will join the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, in Jerusalem on Monday to pay their respects at the plaza of the Israeli parliament building where the body of Ariel Sharon lies in state.

Israel's former prime minister and wartime leader, who died on Saturday aged 85 after eight years in a coma, will be buried on a hilltop overlooking his family's Sycamore Ranch in the southern Negev region, alongside his late wife Lily. He is expected to receive a military funeral, with his coffin to be borne by eight Israeli Defence Force generals. Yesterday, draped in the national flag, his coffin was displayed in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem. Visitors included President Shimon Peres and the former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

As Israeli newspapers devoted their front pages to Mr Sharon, the Cabinet held a minute's silence at its weekly meeting. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who broke with Mr Sharon in 2004 over his decision to withdraw from Gaza, said Mr Sharon was "tied to the land and knew that it had to be defended".

Russian President Vladimir Putin called him an "outstanding statesman and military commander" while US President Barack Obama, whose relationship with Israel has been strained recently over issues such as Iran's nuclear programme, said: "We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries."


The former US president George W Bush, whose term in office coincided with the late Israeli leader's, said Mr Sharon was "a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East", while his predecessor Bill Clinton said: "It was an honour to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country."

Rolling news coverage on Israeli television and radio broadcast almost uninterrupted tributes to Mr Sharon, although no such sentiment was mirrored in the West Bank or Gaza where his death reignited bitter memories of violent military campaigns, from his raid in 1948 on the West Bank village of Qibya, in which 69 people died, to the 1982 massacre of more than 1,000 refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. "People describe him as a bulldozer, but a bulldozer is relatively benign compared to what he did," the Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi told the Financial Times. "He left an impact whose influence is with us to this day."

In Khan Younis, southern Gaza, people handed out sweets to passers-by in celebration of Mr Sharon’s death while posters of him were burned. The ruling Islamist Hamas movement described Mr Sharon's death as a "historic moment" and the "disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood". "We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman. While the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, had yet to comment on Mr Sharon's death, there were reports of celebrations of his passing across Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

The former Palestinian minister Ghassan Khatib said: "in all his history, [Mr Sharon] played a negative role", while a senior official in the Fatah movement, Jibril Rajoub, condemned him as a leader whom Palestinians had wanted to see tried as a war criminal.

Video: Palestinian reaction to Ariel Sharon's death