A worldwide reaction

Prime Minister David Cameron has led the political tributes to Ariel Sharon following the former Israeli Prime Minister’s death at the age of 85.

Mr Cameron described Mr Sharon as “one of the most significant figures in Israeli history” and said he had taken “brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace”.

Speaking at a state memorial service in Jerusalem on Monday, Tony Blair described him as “bold, unorthodox and unyielding”.

Wearing a kippah, the former Prime Minister said his Israeli counterpart had been “warm-hearted, humorous, charming and passionate” and would “take his place in the history of Israel with pride”.

Other leaders at the service all spoke of Mr Sharon’s military credentials.

Israeli President Shimon Peres described him as a “military legend” whose shoulders had “borne the weight of the security of our people”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his predecessor’s “unique contribution to the security of the state”, with US Vice-President Joe Biden saying the security of the Israeli people had been Mr Sharon’s “unwavering mission”.

Religious and lay leaders in Britain offered similar tributes, with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis describing Mr Sharon as “a man who loved his country and who dedicated his life to its service, leading it during times of tremendous tension”.

Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said: “Throughout his remarkable life, Ariel Sharon was a man both of koach [the strength to overcome your enemies] and gevurah [the strength to overcome yourself]. He was a warrior who became a man of peace.

“He will be remembered as an individual who demonstrated his strength on the battlefield and inspired a nation to achieve remarkable victories in seemingly impossible battles, most dramatically in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”

Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman remembered a “towering and at times challenging figure who played a dominant role in many of the critical moments in the history of Israel, showing outstanding gallantry and flair.

“He was among Israel’s greatest military strategists and a master of tank warfare, an art learnt at staff college in Britain.”

Reform Judaism chair Robert Weiner called for Mr Sharon’s legacy to be “a true and lasting peace for the people of Israel and the Middle East”.

In a personal tribute, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder recalled the time he had spent with the former prime minister at the Sharon family ranch near Sderot.

Mr Lauder said he had seen the extent of Mr Sharon’s patriotism. “Nobody knew the land of Israel better than he did. The love he showed for Israel was truly unique. He knew that when Jewish security was a stake, there was no compromise.

“Many Israelis may fault one or another of Sharon’s political or military decisions,” Mr Lauder said, “but probably no single individual fought harder to safeguard Israel.”

Moshe Kantor, European Jewish Congress president, echoed those sentiments and said Mr Sharon had been “a leader who acted first and foremost in the best interests of his country and its people. A fighter for his country in times of war and a fighter for peace”.

But Mr Sharon’s long and divisive past meant criticism was also forthcoming, especially from the Arab world.

Fatah described him as a “war criminal and murderer” and posted images of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat dancing.

Palestinian Authority television accused Mr Sharon of “committing massacres” and “defiling the Al-Aqsa mosque”, and Arab Knesset member Jamal Zahalka said a “show trial” should be conducted despite Mr Sharon’s death, with detailed charges of crimes against humanity.

There was criticism of the BBC’s decision to include comments from a refugee in the Shatila refuge camp in its reports.

Saturday afternoon’s edition of PM on Radio Four featured the reaction of the man, who said: “For me and for everybody, Ariel Sharon is the name of a war criminal.

“We don’t expect that he should die normally — by sickness — without any punishment. He should be at the court.”

    Last updated: 12:36pm, January 16 2014