JERUSALEM -- Under skies dotted with scattered clouds and a blimp, Israeli and international leaders attended the state memorial ceremony held Monday for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday.
Draped in an Israeli flag and surrounded by wreaths, Sharon’s casket lay on a raised black platform in the wide, paved plaza of the
Israeli leaders, politicians and dignitaries in attendance, including Sharon's friends and adversaries, offered a snapshot of the country’s political history. International leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister
Israel's chief military rabbi and cantor recited psalms and prayers before a series of eulogies were spoken.
"You cultivated the land with your scythe, and defended it with your sword. Your fingerprints are on every diplomatic situation and every military outpost," the president said of Sharon.
He described Sharon as a military legend in his lifetime who then "turned his gaze toward the day Israel would dwell in safety." Peres bid farewell to "an exceptional soldier, a commander who knew how to win, a leader who breathed a dream."
In addition to his physical courage, Sharon possessed political courage, Biden said, referring to the decision to pull Israeli forces out of Gaza and remove thousands of Israeli settlers from their homes.
Blair, now the special envoy for the so-called Mideast quartet, described Sharon as "bold, unorthodox, unyielding" in everything he did from the battlefield to diplomacy.
Blair dismissed an oft-repeated notion that Sharon had changed from a man of war to a man of peace. His strategic objective and commitment to Israel never changed, and "when that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he made peace," Blair said.
Following the ceremony, the military funeral procession began with members of the Knesset guard carrying the casket to an army command car, with Israel's top army generals riding in the back.