JERUSALEM (AP) — Ariel Sharon was laid to rest Monday at his ranch in southern Israel as the nation bid a final farewell to one of its most colorful and influential leaders — a man venerated by supporters as a warrior and statesman but reviled in the Arab world as a war criminal.
After Israeli politicians and international dignitaries honored Sharon, the military funeral carried a more personal tone, with Sharon's two sons eulogizing their father as an inspiration for the nation. On a day full of warm eulogies, speakers made only passing references to the exploits that made him such a divisive figure.
Sharon died on Saturday, eight years after a devastating stroke removed the prime minister from office and left him in a coma from which he never recovered. He was 85.
His younger son, Gilad, re-enacted his final moments: in a hospital room, with music playing, family members chatting and his grandchildren running about.
"And only the hero of the play is lying motionless," he said, pausing. "I hold your hand and stroke your face, the face of my dying father. Beloved father, you have come home."
With hundreds of officials and everyday Israelis on hand, Sharon's other son, Omri, addressed his father a final time.
"Look around, and see the nation gathering around this hilltop. Look and see how they thank you for guarding them. How they appreciate you protecting them and leading them. How they love you and miss you and bow a head. You were worthy of such praise," he said.
One of Israel's greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister.
He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement on war-won lands. But in a surprising about-face, he led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel's security.
His backers called him a hero, remembering his daring exploits that helped turn the tide of the 1973 Mideast war in Israel's favor and, after becoming prime minister, his harsh crackdown that helped end a violent Palestinian uprising.
His detractors held him responsible for years of bloodshed. They remember his role in a 1953 commando raid that killed 69 Arabs in the West Bank, and as the mastermind of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon — where he became complicit in a massacre in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps by an Israeli-allied militia that killed hundreds of Palestinians. Even Israel's withdrawal from Gaza is scorned as a unilateral act that left the beleaguered area doomed for failure.
"He has prepared the foundation for further conflict and undermined the chances of peace by adopting the policy and strategy of militarism, unilateralism and violence, by acting in a way that the end justifies the means and by having total disregard for Palestinian lives and rights," said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian official.