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Ariel Sharon: ex-leader's body lies in state

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The body of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will lie in state in front of the Israeli parliament building today following his death at the age of 85 - reports Sky News.

Mr Sharon's body will lie in state at the Knesset in Jerusalem between 10am until 4pm local time. He will be buried on Monday afternoon at his ranch in the Negev desert, in southern Israel, during a military ceremony. Mr Sharon had been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January 2006. His condition deteriorated on New Year's Day when he suffered serious kidney problems after surgery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "his memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation", while President Shimon Peres said he would be "greatly missed". World leaders also sent condolences, with US President Barack Obama describing him as a leader who "dedicated his life to the State of Israel". Vice President Joe Biden will lead a US delegation to the memorial service due to be held in parliament on Monday before the burial. Nicknamed "The Bulldozer", Mr Sharon was a veteran soldier who fought in all of Israel's major wars before beginning a turbulent political career in 1973.

Long considered a pariah for his personal but "indirect" responsibility for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, he was elected premier in 2001. Ministers in Israel's right-wing government and the political opposition have mourned a leader who left big footprints on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a unilateral decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In Gaza, Hamas has welcomed Mr Sharon's death and celebrated in the streets. "We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi said. "Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated. "Israel has today lost an important leader."

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