Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon buried next to second wife

Jan. 13, 2014 at 4:33 PM
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JERUSALEM, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was buried on his ranch near the Gaza border Monday in a military sendoff to one of Israel's most controversial leaders.

Israel's military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz recalled Sharon -- who died Saturday at age 85 -- as a warrior, music lover and farmer, the Jerusalem Post reported. He also spoke of Sharon's creation of Unit 101 in his fight against terror.

Sharon, comatose for eight years after suffering a stroke, played a key role in military victories in both the 1967 Six Day War and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the political realm, he was the father of the Likud and Kadima parties. Sharon held several Cabinet posts, including in defense, construction and housing, and foreign ministries. He was elected prime minister in 2001.

"I came to tell you that the [Israeli military force] you so cherished will continue in your footsteps for many years," Gantz said at Sharon's graveside.

The former premier's two sons, Omri and Gilad Sharon, also spoke during the graveside ceremony near the Sharon ranch.

"I was privileged to work with you and watch you worry over Israel's future," Omri Sharon said.

Because of the ranch's proximity to Gaza, hundreds of officers, border police and volunteers were deployed for security, the Post said. A source also confirmed that the Iron Dome missile defense system had been deployed as well.

Thirty-three state and foreign dignitaries each placed wreaths on the former prime minister's grave, beginning with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Sharon was buried next to his wife, Lily.

The graveside service followed a funeral outside the Knesset in which Sharon was remembered as a lion in his defense of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told the audience he had known Sharon for 30 years and understood Sharon's nickname, "Bulldozer."

"He was indomitable," Biden said.

"[Like] all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him," Biden said. "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 Sharon and Peres "are part of one of the most remarkable founding generations in the history of not this nation, but of any nation."

Netanyahu called Sharon one of the greatest military men of the Jewish people and the country's military, the Post reported.

"The establishment of Israel depended on a generation of brave fighters to rebuild a legacy of Jewish bravery that seemed to have disappeared," Netanyahu said. "Ariel Sharon had a central role in rebuilding this legacy."

Peres said Sharon's presence was embedded throughout Israel.

"Your footprints are imprinted on every hill and in every valley. You cultivated the land with your scythe and defended it with your sword," Peres said.

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