JERUSALEM — Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coffin, draped in Israel’s blue and white flag, made its way to Jerusalem on Sunday aboard a military command car in a somber motorcade flanked with police motorcycles and other military vehicles.
Carried by members of the Knesset guard as an army rabbi recited Jewish prayers, the coffin was placed on a black dais set up in the plaza outside the parliament building. With flags at half-staff, a line of generals saluted Sharon, who was also a divisive public figure.
President Shimon Peres and Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of parliament, laid wreaths by the coffin and left the plaza to citizens arriving to pay last respects.
At the Cabinet’s weekly meeting Sunday, government ministers stood and observed a minute of silence in Sharon’s memory. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sharon was “first and foremost a warrior and a commander, among the Jewish people’s greatest generals” throughout its history.
“He was tied to the land, he knew that it had to be defended. He understood above everything our revival is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves,” the prime minister said.
In the Knesset courtyard, hundreds of people -young and old, civilians and soldiers – waited silently in line for a turn to salute, wipe a tear or recite a quick verse and, in many cases, raise a cellphone for a quick picture.
Visitors included politicians past and present, spiritual leaders of religious denominations, Supreme Court judges and Ehud Olmert, who became prime minister in 2006 when Sharon suffered a stroke and never regained consciousness.
A state ceremony is scheduled for Monday, after which Sharon will be buried beside his second wife, Lily, near his family farm in southern Israel. Officials were working out logistic and security concerns for Monday’s ceremonies, which will be attended by heads of state and other high-ranking officials.
Local media reported that the army is considering deploying an Iron Dome air defense battery in the area of the farm, which is a few miles from Gaza, where Palestinians celebrated Sharon’s death with sweets and parades.
Throughout the day, the Israeli news media continued blanket coverage that began with news of Sharon’s death Saturday, offering commentary from speakers deconstructing his complex character and trying to reconcile the ruthless soldier with the doting family man, the champion of Jewish settlements on occupied land with the man who uprooted some of those Jewish communities.