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Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon laid to rest

The funeral of the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken place following a memorial service earlier today attended by politicans from around the world including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The 85-year-old, who died on Saturday after being in a coma for 8 years, was laid to rest next to his wife on his farm in the south of the country.

Earlier this morning Tony Blair and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden were among the dignitaries who attended a military funeral at the Knesset (Israeli parliament). Both men praised the late Israeli leader for his dramatic decision in 2005 to disengage from Gaza, when they spoke at the memorial service for the late Israeli politician.

Israel's current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had resigned from Mr Sharon's government to protest at the Gaza withdrawal, called him "one of the big warriors" for the nation of Israel.

But Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, says he was never a man of peace:

"Maybe he was a champion for the extremists inside Israel, he never believed in the resurrection basically of a peace process with the Palestinians. 

"He had no intentions to give up any land in the West Bank by the constant building of settlements."

Speaking before the funeral from East Jerusalam on Premier's News Hour was human rights observer Andy Walton.

He told Premier's Des Busteed that Mr Sharon's death has reopened the debate surrounding one of the most controversial figures in Israeli politics:

During this morning's memorial service former British Prime Minister Tony Blair celebrated Mr Sharon for his alleged role in boosting peace with Palestinians.

He said:

"He took actions no one ever thought he would take: agreeing the Road Map, withdrawal from Gaza, forming Kadima.

"But the idea that he changed from the man of war to the man of peace, misses that which defined him."

Mr Biden recognised U.S differences with Mr Sharon:

"Arik was never uncertain. But there were times when he acted, and those actions earned him controversy and even condemnation. 

"And in certain instances American leaders, American presidents, had profound differences with him."

After the memorial service, Mr Sharon's body was driven from Jerusalem to his family farm some six miles from Gaza, where he was buried next to his wife. Israel had warned authorities in Gaza not to allow rocket fire during the service.

The Israeli army reportedly moved part of its Iron Dome aerial defence system to defend against possible rocket attacks. Gaza is controlled by Hamas Islamists who have fought Israel several times over the past few years. Nicknamed 'The Bulldozer' in his early career, the veteran soldier fought in all of Israel's major wars before beginning a controversial political career in 1973. Some of his supporters have described him a war hero but his critics considered him a war criminal and held him responsible for years of bloodshed. Mr Sharon, who was elected Prime Minister in 2001, spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlements.

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