JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ariel Sharon was one of Israel’s “most outstanding leaders and most daring commanders,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a moment of silence for the late prime minister and war hero.
Netanyahu eulogized Sharon at the start of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting less than a day after Sharon died at 85 after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke.
“Arik was, first and foremost, a warrior and a commander, among the Jewish people’s greatest generals in the current era and throughout its history,” Netanyahu said. “In all of his positions — defense minister, housing minister, infrastructures minister and foreign minister — Arik contributed to the State of Israel, as he also did as prime minister. I think that he represents the generation of Jewish warriors that arose for our people upon the resumption of our independence.”
Netanyahu added: “He was tied to the land; he knew that it had to be defended. He understood that above everything, our revival is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. I believe that he will be remembered in the heart of the Jewish people forever as one of our most outstanding leaders and most daring commanders.”
Sharon’s coffin was placed in the Knesset Plaza on Sunday, where his body will lie in state for visits from the public. Thousands had lined up by early Sunday afternoon to pay their respects.
The funeral is set for Monday, and leaders from around the world are expected to attend, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Sharon will be buried on the grounds of his Negev ranch next to his wife, Lily.
The official cause of death was heart failure, though for the last week Sharon had been in renal failure without receiving dialysis, multi-organ failure and suffered from a blood infection.
“My dear friend, Arik Sharon, lost his final battle today,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said following Sharon’s death. “Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision.
Ehud Olmert succeeded Sharon as head of the Kadima Party and as prime minister after Sharon fell into the coma from which he never awoke.
“For his entire life Arik stood in the line of fire — in the place where Israel’s destiny is determined,” Olmert said. “Arik’s life story is fascinating, extraordinary and unique, imbued with courage, human kindness, vision and leadership.”