Friends and enemies weigh in on legacy of Ariel Sharon, dead at 85
Published Saturday, January 11, 2014 10:03AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 11, 2014 4:11PM EST
As plans are coming together for the funeral of Ariel Sharon, world leaders are remembering the former Israeli prime minister who died Saturday at the age of 85.
Sharon, who was known as the "bulldozer" for his bold tactics, had spent the past eight years in a coma following a devastating stroke in 2006.
His funeral is scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m. ET.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Sharon as a "renowned military leader," who relentlessly pursued Israel’s security.
"He also played a central role in the Israeli government for several years, changing the political landscape through his leadership and vision," Harper said in a statement released Saturday.
"We join today with those mourning the loss of Ariel Sharon, one of the architects of modern day Israel and one of the nation's staunchest defenders," he said.
The Harper government has been a loyal supporter of Israel.
Canada was one of only nine countries to vote at the United Nations against the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition.
On the issue of Iran, the Canadian government stands firmly on the Israeli side, separate from key allies including the U.S. and Britain.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander will represent Canada at the memorial.
Harper is scheduled to make his first state visit to Israel later this month.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama described Sharon as someone who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.
"We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples," Obama said in a statement.
The U.S. is currently leading the latest round of peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
"We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security," Obama said.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will be leading the U.S. delegation to Sharon's memorial service.
British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement on the former Israeli leader's death, describing Sharon as "one of the most significant figures in Israeli history."
"As prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated."
A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on his behalf Saturday, saying: "He was a great warrior and military leader. His memory will live forever in the nation's heart."
Other world leaders’ reactions to Ariel Sharon's death include:
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: "During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with him. But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions ... you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State."
- Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip."
- Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog: "(Sharon) realized the reality and went for a very brave move that recognizes the fact that there is no choice but to separate from the Palestinians."
- EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton: "He was a man of strong conviction who had a clear idea of what the future of his country should be and who fought for it with determination."
However, some leaders in the Middle East condemned Sharon as a tyrant.
Some Palestinians celebrated the passing of the former Israeli leader by cheering and distributing sweets to one another, recalling Sharon’s key role in some of the bloodiest battles of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"He wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map," said Tawfik Tirawi, who served as Palestinian intelligence chief when Sharon was prime minister. "He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive."
As defence minister in 1982, Sharon led a military campaign into Lebanon to uproot a small group of Palestinians planning to carry out raids on Israel. The invasion led to the deaths of more than 800 Arab civilians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, for which an inquiry found him responsible. As a result, he was forced to resign as defence minister.
"It's a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatilla and other abuses," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer."
With files from The Associated Press.