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Body Of Israeli Ex-PM Sharon Lies In State In Knesset

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his office in Jerusalem in a 2005 photo
The body of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is lying in state in Jerusalem at the nation's parliament, the Knesset, as mourners pay their last respects.

The former Israeli general and prime minister died on January 11 after eight years in a coma following a stroke. He was 85.

The funeral is scheduled for January 13.

Israeli leaders past and present paid tribute to Sharon in televised addresses to the nation.

"The people of Israel bow their heads for the departure of Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "Arik was first and foremost a warrior and a brave commander. I believe he was one of the greatest military leaders we had in modern days. Arik has contributed to the state's security, to its defense. He did it because he knew that the Jewish people must be able to defend their only country by its own means, and for themselves. His memory will forever be cherished in the heart of the nation."

OBITUARY: Sharon Idealized By Some, Demonized By Others

Israeli President Shimon Peres said: "Ariel Sharon was a great architect, an outstanding defender of his state. He turned the tide of the Yom Kippur War from an initial menace to a surprising victory that paved the way to peace with Egypt. He knew no fear, he took difficult decisions and implemented them courageously. He was admired at home and respected abroad."

Many world leaders have reacted to his death, with U.S. President Barack Obama praising his dedication to the Jewish state.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to attend the funeral.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel characterized Sharon as "an Israeli patriot."

France's Francois Hollande and EU President Herman Van Rompuy offered condolences.

The Palestinian group Hamas, however, announced that it welcomed Sharon's death, calling him a "criminal."

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters