A Divisive Figure, Leaders Mourn and Rejoice Sharon’s Death

Obama, Hollande express condolence while Hamas expresses "extreme happiness"

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Brennan Linsley / ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this Monday, April 26, 2004 file photo, Marking Israeli Memorial Day, Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon greets family members of terror victims, after a memorial ceremony for Israeli civilians who have been killed since Israel's founding 56 years ago, at Mt. Herzl Cemetery, in Jerusalem.

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister and war hero who lionized a generation of Israelis and enraged Palestinians, as well as some of his most staunch supporters, was remembered as a controversial and commanding figure following his death Saturday at the age of 85. He died from a massive stroke.

For Israelis who sought to strengthen their country’s borders in a series of wars with its neighbors after the nation’s 1948 founding, Sharon is remembered as a war hero and staunch Zionist. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his “deep sorrow” over Sharon’s death, calling him “a great warrior and military leader,” the Jerusalem Post reported. President Shimon Peres called Sharon “a valorous soldier and a bold statesman who contributed much to the security and building up of the State of Israel.”

World leaders friendly with Israel also chimed in to express their condolences. French president Francois Hollande credited Sharon as “a major actor in the history of his country,” citing his “choice to turn towards dialogue with Palestinians,” Reuters reports.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is visiting Israel and seeking to broker a peace deal, said “We remember his contributions, sacrifices he made to ensure the survival and the well-being of Israel, and I have many personal thoughts about my meetings with him on many different occasions — always robust and strong and clear about his positions,” according to Fox News.

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement saying, “We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.”

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has yet to release any comment or reaction, but Hamas, the militant Palestinian authority of the Gaza Strip, rejoiced over his death, Reuters reports. “We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant,” said a Hamas spokesman, whose movement preaches the destruction of the Jewish state.”Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile.”

Sharon’s 2005 decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip still divides his critics and supporters.

[Jerusalem Post]