Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon dies aged 85Updated: 2014-01-13 10:01:05 (KST)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died at the age of 85 on Saturday after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke he suffered at the pinnacle of his political power.
Thousands of Israelis bid farewell to the former leader on Sunday at Israel's parliament, the Knesset, where Sharon's coffin, draped in the blue and white national flag, lay in state.
Sharon, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, was one of Israel's most influential and controversial figures.
He was a hero to many Israelis for his leadership during wars, while he earned the name "Butcher of Beruit" in the Arab world, after he led Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Nevertheless, in a surprise move in 2005, Sharon withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza under a policy of "disengagement" from conflict and a pursuit of dialogue to advance peace with the Palestinians.
Some experts say the Israel-Palestinian conflict would look very different today, had Sharon stayed in office.
Israel's current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed sorrow over Sharon's death, adding the former leader will live forever in the nation's heart.
"The people of Israel bow their heads for the departure of Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister. Arik was first and foremost a warrior and a brave commander."
The international community also mourned Sharon's death.
U.S. President Barack Obama sent his condolences, saying Sharon had "dedicated his life" to Israel.
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the "brave and controversial decisions" Sharon had taken to achieve peace.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sharon was a "hero to his people," and called on Israel to build on the late prime minister's legacy.
Palestinians however expressed their joy over the news of Sharon's death,.. calling him a criminal.
Sharon's funeral will take place Monday.
World leaders, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be in attendence.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.