State memorial for Israel former PM Sharon begins

Israeli army officers salute in front of the flag draped coffin of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon as he lies in state before a memorial ceremony at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on Jan 12, 2014. A state memorial for the l
Israeli army officers salute in front of the flag draped coffin of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon as he lies in state before a memorial ceremony at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on Jan 12, 2014. A state memorial for the late Israeli premier Ariel Sharon got under way at the Parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, Jan 13, 2014, in the presence of Israeli and foreign dignitaries. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - A state memorial for the late Israeli premier Ariel Sharon got under way at the Parliament in Jerusalem on Monday in the presence of Israeli and foreign dignitaries.

The ceremony, which was being held in the plaza outside the Knesset, began with the singing of a traditional Jewish memorial prayer, with a funeral to take place later in the day at Sharon’s ranch in southern Israel.

“You never rested in service of your people, when defending your land and making it flourish,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres in a eulogy delivered at the start of the service, carried live on Israeli television.

“The land from which you came will embrace you in the warm arms of the history of our nation to which you added an unforgettable chapter,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Vice-President Joe Biden were also to speak at the service, which was taking place under clear blue skies.