Mourners pay tribute to Ariel Sharon as coffin lies in state outside parliament building
Hundreds of Israelis lined up outside the parliament building yesterday to pay their last respects to Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister and general who died on Saturday.
Sharon's coffin was displayed in front of the Knesset, where a stream of visitors passed by.
A funeral to be attended by dignitaries including US Vice- President Joe Biden will take place today.
Sharon, 85, one of Israel's most iconic and controversial figures, died eight years after a stroke that left him in a coma.
"My heart is broken. Israel lost the King of David," said Uri Rottman, a mourner who said he once served in the military with Sharon. The authorities closed off streets around the parliament in anticipation of huge crowds.
Visitors were asked to park at lots around the city and were taken to the site by special buses.
President Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Sharon after the 2006 stroke, were among the visitors.
Olmert crossed past a roped-off area to stand silently next to the flag-draped coffin.
Ministers also held a minute's silence in memory of Israel's 11th prime minister as they met for the weekly cabinet meeting.
"He will be remembered in the heart of the Jewish people forever as one of our most outstanding leaders and most daring commanders," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
A state memorial is planned today at the parliament building.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were also expected to attend. After the memorial, Sharon's body will be taken by a military convoy for burial at his ranch in southern Israel.
News of Sharon's death dominated Israeli media and the three main television stations broadcast live from the memorial.
Radio stations were filled with interviews with former officials and military men who shared stories of Sharon's exploits.
As one of Israel's most famous generals, he was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders.
Historians credit him with helping turn the tide of the 1973 Mideast war when Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the solemn fasting day of Yom Kippur, causing heavy Israeli casualties.