Israelis paid their last respects to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday as his body lay in state outside the Knesset, the national Parliament, following his death at the age of 85.

In a subdued event that contrasted with the boisterous nature of his career, a steady trickle of mourners filed past Sharon's coffin draped in an Israeli flag.

There were no outward signs of emotion as many people took pictures of the closed coffin, which had earlier been saluted by eight army generals after it was borne into the plaza.

The initial turnout appeared modest as visitors were admitted following a wreath-laying ceremony conducted by President Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.


The ceremony was organised before a state funeral to be held today, which will include a memorial service at the Knesset attended by international dignitaries including former British PM and Middle East envoy Tony Blair, US Vice-President Joe Biden and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Sharon died on Sunday after spending the last eight years of his life in a coma following a stroke.

He will be buried on a hilltop overlooking his family's Sycamore Ranch in the Negev Desert next to the grave of his late wife, Lily.

Israelis gave a variety of reasons for paying homage to one of Israel's most controversial figures.

Some acknowledged that he had made serious mistakes, but many agreed that he showed a strength of leadership unique in their country's 65-year history.

"He was a great man. He did a lot of things that were good for the country and maybe some things that were not good," said Ronen Yekutieal, 25, a law student.

"He was the last real leader that grew up here and there will be no other leader like him in the years ahead."

-additional reporting Independent