World reacts to Ariel Sharon’s death
There has been widespread reaction in Israel, the rest of the Middle East and across the world to the death of Ariel Sharon aged 85 at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.
World leaders and senior Israeli figures spoke of the dedication of his life to Israel, but many Palestinians said they were glad he was gone.
President Shimon Peres gave a very personal tribute to a man who was a friend, long-time political rival and also a partner in Israel’s 2001 unity government. He spoke of his dear friend Arik who “knew no fear” and was one of the architects of his country. “He was an outstanding man and an exceptional commander who moved his people and loved them, and the people loved him.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “his memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation” while Ehud Olmert, who took over as PM after Mr Sharon’s stroke, said he was a smart and realistic person who was not a warmonger. Tzipi Livni, who founded the Kadima (Forward) party with Ariel Sharon and is now chief negotiator with the Palestinians, described him as a “father of the nation”.
Praise came from across the political spectrum, with Ehud Barak, the Labour prime minister who lost the 2001 general election to Mr Sharon, describing his decision to pull Israelis out of Gaza as extraordinary and “crucial to the future of the state of Israel”.
There was little sorrow among Palestinians at Ariel Sharon’s death, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At Khan Younis in Gaza, sweets were handed out and posters of the late Israeli prime minister was burned.
“We don’t say good riddance but I don’t think he has left us anything positive,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. She told the BBC his legacy was one of violence, bloodshed and cruelty. Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was a “unilateral redeployment” that maintained a “very strict siege”.
Former minister Ghassan Khatib said “in all his history, he played a negative role” and a senior official in the Fatah movement, Jibril Rajoub, condemned him as a criminal whom Palestinians had wanted to see tried as a war criminal.
Khalil al-Haya of Gaza’s Islamist militant Hamas movement said after eight years Ariel Sharon was going in the same direction as “other tyrants and criminals whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood”.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle led tributes in the US, saying that as “Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country”.
His predecessor George Bush, who was president at the time Mr Sharon was prime minister, said he had been honoured to “know this man of courage and call him friend”.
Ex-President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, a former secretary of state, said Ariel Sharon had given his life to Israel and it had been “an honour to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country”.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the “brave and controversial decisions” Mr Sharon had taken in pursuit of peace, describing him as one of the most significant figures in Israeli history.
His words were echoed by French President Francois Hollande who said that after a long military and political career “he made the choice to turn towards dialogue with Palestinians”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel “is mourning with the Israeli people”, her spokesman said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the late Israeli leader had been a great friend of Russia and praised what he had done to protect his country’s interests.