Israelis line up to pay last respects to Ariel Sharon

Published January 12, 2014

| FoxNews.com

Hundreds of Israelis lined up outside Israel's parliament building on Sunday to pay their last respects to Ariel Sharon, the former general and Prime Minister of Israel, whose body is lying in state there.

Sharon's casket arrived at the Knesset approximately half-an-hour before the scheduled noon arrival. The prime minister's office said in a statement early Sunday that public would be able to pay its respects until 6 p.m. local time. Police officials said they expected thousands of Israelis to do just that.

The 85-year-old Sharon died Saturday, eight years after suffering a stroke that left him in a coma.

"My heart is broken. Israel lost the King of David. There is no other word to describe this man, they don't make people like this anymore," said Uri Rottman, a mourner who said he once served in the military with Sharon.

"I feel committed to share the very last moment before they're going to bury him," said Eliav Aviram, another former army comrade.

Israeli authorities closed off streets around the parliament in anticipation of huge crowds Sunday. Visitors were asked to park at lots in and around the city and were brought to the site by special buses.

President Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Sharon after the 2006 stroke, was among the visitors. Olmert crossed past a roped-off area to stand silently next to the flag-draped coffin.

A state memorial is planned for Monday with the participation of Israeli and world leaders, the prime minister's office said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others will attend, it added.

Afterward Sharon's body will be taken by military convey for burial at his ranch.

One of Israel's most iconic and controversial figures, Sharon had been in a coma for eight years after a devastating stroke incapacitated him at the peak of his political power.

News of his passing and tales of his exploits dominated Israel's newspapers and TV stations Sunday.

Sharon's career stretched across Israel's 65-year existence and his life was closely intertwined with the country's history.

As one of Israel's most famous generals, Sharon 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 large Israeli casualties.

As a politician, he became known as "the bulldozer" -- a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.  He was elected prime minister in 2001.

In 2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements.

He later bolted from his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke in January 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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