World leaders have paid tribute to the legacy of Israel’s former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
“Ariel Sharon was an Israeli patriot who rendered a great service to his country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday.
“With his brave decision to withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, he took a historic step towards reconciliation with the Palestinians and a two-state solution.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sharon was “one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in the pursuit of peace.”
French President Francois Hollande and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy also offered condolences
Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, a former Secretary of State, praised Sharon on Saturday as a leader who “gave his life to Israel”.
In a statement issued shortly after Sharon’s death, the Clintons 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”.
US President Barack Obama added on Saturday that Sharon was “a leader who dedicated his life to the state of Israel”.
“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel,” a White House statement said.
“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” it added.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Sharon would be remembered for “his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip”.
Ban also called on Israel to “build on the late prime minister’s legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel.”
A state funeral will be organised for Sharon, with current and former world leaders expected to attend.
His body will lie in state at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, before the funeral, Israeli media reported on Saturday.
Sharon had expressed the wish to be buried beside his wife Lily, who died in 2000 of cancer, on a hill outside his ranch in southern Israel.
A date for the funeral, which under Jewish law must take place as soon as possible after death, has yet to be officially announced.