World leaders pay tribute to Sharon

AFP , Saturday 11 Jan 2014

Palestinian figures decried the former Israeli president as a 'war criminal'

Palestinians stand over a picture of the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 (Photo: AP)

World leaders paid tributes Saturday to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, revealing dissimilar statements among his supporters and opponents, who differed in responding to the news.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called his decision on withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 "courageous."

With that, "he took an important historic step on the road towards reconciliation with the Palestinians and for a two-state solution," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also hailed Sharon for making "brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated."

"Israel has today lost an important leader," Cameron said in a statement issued by Downing Street of the man who is one of the last members of the generation which founded the Jewish state in 1948.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Sharon would 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."

Ban also called on Israel to "build on the late prime minister's legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel."

US President Barack Obama said Sharon "dedicated his life to the State of Israel", as he affirmed Washington's "unshakable commitment to Israel's security."

Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, an ex-Secretary of State, said: "It was an honour to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country."

"Ariel Sharon gave his life to Israel -- to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it, and at the end of his long service, to create a new political party committed to both a just peace and lasting security," they added.

Sharon broke with the nationalist Likud party in November 2005 to form the centrist Kadima party with the intention to push through further withdrawals from the West Bank. But just six weeks later, he suffered a massive stroke.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Sharon as a "great political and military" figure in condolences sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a Kremlin statement.

Putin also said he has a "high esteem of the personal qualities of Sharon and his activities aimed at defending the interests of Israel."

Russia has a complex relationship with Israel, with the two sides enjoying friendly ties even though Moscow is a key backer of Israel's foes such as Iran and Syria.

But the Palestinians welcomed Sharon's death, with a senior official labelling him a criminal and accusing him of being responsible for the mysterious death in 2004 of veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal," said Jibril Rajub, a senior official of the Fatah party.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said Sharon's death was a "historic moment," marking the "disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood."

Sharon fought in all of Israel's major wars before embarking on a political career in 1973.

This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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