Ariel Sharon drew praise from Israelis for buttressing security, respect from some world leaders for withdrawing settlements from the Gaza Strip, and scorn from Arabs who regarded him as a brutal antagonist.
Sharon, Israel’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006, died Saturday at age 85 from multiple organ failure after spending eight years in a coma following a stroke.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on Sharon’s military career, lauding him as “one of the Israeli army’s outstanding commanders,” who played “a key role in the struggle for Israel’s security.” He didn’t mention Sharon’s 2005 evacuation of Israeli troops and settlements from Gaza, a policy Netanyahu opposed and one that created a rift between the one-time allies in the Likud party.
President Shimon Peres, who joined the Kadima party after Sharon left Likud and founded it, praised him as a “daring leader” who “knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them.”
Palestinian reaction focused on Sharon’s actions as a military commander, the politician who built settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the defense minister that an Israeli government panel said bore indirect responsibility for the 1982 slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“The Palestinian people remember today what this former prime minister did in battles and war to uproot us from our land, in particular what took place in Lebanon,” Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said by telephone.
The Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm published an editorial today labeling Sharon a “bloody butcher” whose “crimes and massacres committed toward Palestinians and Arabs stand witness to unrivaled racism and blood-thirstiness.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is overseeing current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, said in a statement that “it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with” Sharon.
“But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions — and Arik was always crystal clear about where he stood — you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State,” Kerry said.