World Leaders Say Goodbye To Sharon
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away on Saturday at the age of 85. While Palestinian leaders heaped condemnation on Sharon following his death, world leaders were quick to send their condolences and praise of the former leader, who died after being in a coma since 2006.
US President Barack Obama paid tribute to Sharon as "a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel."
"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of...Sharon and to the people of Israel," read a White House statement. "We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security. 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."
Meanwhile the White House announced Saturday that US Vice President Joe Biden will lead US representatives attending Sharon's memorial service.
"I look forward to leading the US delegation to his memorial service, to pay respects to the man and to pay tribute to the unshakeable partnership
between the United States and Israel," read Biden's message. "We send our condolences to his family and to his beloved nation of Israel."
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted to the news as well, calling Sharon a "great political and military" figure. Putin further expressed his "high esteem of the personal qualities of Sharon and his activities aimed at defending the interests of Israel".
In 2005 Sharon enacted the "Disengagement" plan, expelling all Jewish residents from Gaza. The vacuum created in Gaza was quickly filled by the terrorist organization Hamas.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the expulsion as "courageous," saying Sharon "took an important historic step on the road towards reconciliation with the Palestinians and for a two-state solution."
British Prime Minister David Cameron also complimented Sharon for his "brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated," adding "Israel has today lost an important leader."
French President Francois Hollande marked the passing of Sharon as well, calling him "a central figure" in Israeli history.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has busily been trying to push through a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), reminisced about Sharon as well.
"I remember reading about Arik (Sharon) in the papers when I was a young lawyer in Boston and marveling at his commitment to cause and country," stated Kerry. "I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became prime minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace."
"In his final years as prime minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger," claimed Kerry, who recently was revealed as being behind European boycotts on Israel.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added his remarks to the outpouring of sentiments from world leaders.
"Ariel Sharon was a hero to his people, first as a soldier and then a statesman," said Ban, adding he "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."
Ban 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."
Former US President George Bush, whose presidency coincided with part of Sharon's stint as prime minister, said "I was honored to know this man of courage and call him friend." Bush added "he was a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East."
Former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, added their praise to the former leader.
"It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country," declared a statement from the Clintons. "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."
Sharon, in trying to force through the "Disengagement" from Gaza, broke off from Likud in 2005 to create the Kadima party and allow his highly controversial plans.
Republic John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, added his condolences.
"I join the people of the Jewish state of Israel in mourning the loss of Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history," stated Boehner. "Sharon's contribution to establishing and defending Israel's independence is incalculable and his devotion to peace undisputed."
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, claimed Sharon showed courage "in his decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip. It was a difficult choice founded in the same tenet that defined so much of Sharon's career: the national security interest of the people and the nation of Israel."
"Sharon dedicated his life to building, defending, and leading the state of Israel," added Pelosi. "He was a soldier and an officer, a public servant to his people and a powerful voice for his beliefs and values."
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, declared that Sharon was "a legendary military man" who "distinguished himself as a strategist and a soldier in virtually every major Israeli conflict of the second half of the 20th century."
"Israel has lost one of its greatest sons and America a friend in the passing of Ariel Sharon," added the senator.
Jewish groups join in eulogizing former leader
Aside from world leaders, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed its regret at Sharon's death as well, calling him "a great military leader who fought in Israel’s five wars," and adding that he "capped his career by becoming a true statesman and a prime minister who earned the support of a wide swath of the Israeli public and the international community."
Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued a joint statement saying "while he has just passed away, it has truly been eight years since we lost this great statesman and friend."
"In the wake of the Second Intifada, Mr. Sharon fulfilled the desire of the majority of the Israeli people for a leader who gave them both a sense of security and hope for peace," read the ADL statement.
Sharon "understood that Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy required a courageous unilateral initiative to permanently disengage both troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip," according to ADL. "This was a difficult and defining moment in Israel’s history."
"Through his steadfast leadership, and his courageous advocacy of positions and policies that were often controversial yet always with Israel’s best interests at heart, Prime Minister Sharon helped his people emerge from a difficult period of suicide bombings and violence by providing pragmatic responses to the duel challenges of terrorism and security," added the statement.
"His legacy is a more secure State of Israel, safe on its borders and resolved to put an end to the campaign of Palestinian terrorism once and for all," concluded the ADL message.
It is of note that Gaza, now controlled by Hamas following Sharon's orders of evacuation, has continually rained rockets on Israel up to the current time.
The Jewish Agency adding its commemoration of Sharon, calling him a military man, a leader of Israel, a statesman, and a genuine partner of world Jewry.
"Ariel Sharon uttered the timeless phrase, 'I am a Jew first and an Israeli second,'" noted the Jewish AGency. "He invested tremendous effort in strengthening Jewish identity, increasing Aliyah (immigration to Israel), and combating anti-Semitism around the world."