Body of Israel's Ariel Sharon lies in state

Photo: Body of Israel's Ariel Sharon lies in state / Israel

The body of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon lay in state on Sunday in front of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, after his body was driven under police escort to Jerusalem, Aljazeera reported.

President Shimon Peres placed a wreath near the coffin, which was wrapped in a blue and white Israeli flag.

The body was driven to the Knesset from an army base near the hospital outside Tel Aviv where Sharon died on Saturday.

"The public will be able to pay its respects until 18:00 (16:00 GMT)," the prime minister's office said.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to pay tribute at the Knesset, police said.

A state memorial is planned for Monday with the participation of Israeli and world leaders, the prime minister's office said.

US Vice President Joe Biden, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others will attend, it added.

Afterwards Sharon's body will be taken by military convoy for burial at his ranch.

One of Israel's most controversial figures, Sharon had been in a coma for eight years after a devastating stroke incapacitated him at the peak of his political power.

'Pariah'

Celebrated as a military hero by some, recognised as a pragmatic politician by others and despised as a bloodthirsty criminal by his foes, Sharon was a polarising figure at home and abroad.

News of his death and tales of his exploits dominated Israel's newspapers and TV stations on Sunday.

Sharon's career stretched across Israel's 65-year existence and his life was closely intertwined with the country's history.

As one of Israel's most famous generals, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders.

Sharon was once known chiefly as a ruthless military leader who fought in all of Israel's major wars, before switching to politics in 1973 and championing the development of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

He was long considered a pariah for his personal but "indirect" responsibility in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

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