Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been laid to rest at his family farm in southern Israel, some 10 kilometers from Gaza.
At a somber ceremony earlier in the day in front of the Israeli parliament, dignitaries from 21 countries, mainly in Europe, had paid tribute to Sharon, who died on January 11 at the age of 85 after eight years in a coma following a stroke.
Sharon was buried next to his wife, Lily, at Havat Shikmim, or “Sycamore Ranch,” their home in the Negev desert.
In his remarks at the special memorial at Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that Sharon "never rested" in his defense of Israel. "The land from which you came will embrace you in the warm arms of the history of our nation to which you added an unforgettable chapter," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Sharon's "unique contribution to the security of Israel is engraved in the pages of the history of our people."
"The state of Israel will continue to fight terrorism," Netanyahu said. "The state of Israel will continue to strive for peace while safeguarding our security."
In his eulogy, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Sharon a man whose "guiding star" was the security and survival of the state of Israel.
"The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission -- a nonbreakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now," Biden said.
Sharon was a "complex man" who at times sparked "controversy and even condemnation," Biden said, adding, "History will also judge that these were complex times.
Others in attendance include German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair, outgoing Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, and diplomats from Canada, Spain, and Russia.
The procession traveling from the Knesset paused for a ceremony at a military memorial site in Latrun, west of Jerusalem, where Sharon was wounded in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
With thousands of people expected to attend the funeral, Israeli security forces and aerial defenses had been redeployed to secure the area.
Sharon’s ranch is close to the border with Gaza and rocket attacks from Gaza have struck nearby during the past month.
Sharon’s body lay in state at the Knesset on January 12 as mourners paid their last respects.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, led tributes in the United States, saying that as “Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”
Former U.S. President George W. Bush, who was in office when Sharon was serving as Israel’s prime minister, said he was honored to “know this man of courage and call him a friend.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also said Sharon had been a great friend of Russia and praised what Sharon had done to protect Israel’s interests.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel characterized Sharon as "an Israeli patriot."
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the “brave and controversial decisions” Sharon had made toward the Middle East peace process, and called him one of the most significant figures in Israeli history.
French President Francois Hollande also praised Sharon’s “choice to turn towards dialogue with Palestinians” after his long military and political career.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Sharon a “hero to his people” and urged Israel to build on Sharon’s legacy of pragmatism to work toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian group Hamas, however, said that it welcomed Sharon's death -- calling him a “criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood” and who should have been put on trial for “war crimes.”
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP