Clintons say Sharon 'gave his life to Israel'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, an ex-Secretary of State, praised Ariel Sharon on Saturday as a leader who "who gave his life to Israel."

In a statement issued shortly after the former Israeli prime minister's death, the Clintons said: "It was an honour to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country."

"Ariel Sharon gave his life to Israel - to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it, and at the end of his long service, to create a new political party committed to both a just peace and lasting security," they added.

Other US politicians also paid tribute to Sharon, who died in hospital near Tel Aviv, aged 85, after eight years in a coma.

"I join the people of the Jewish state of Israel in mourning the loss of Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history," said Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

"Sharon's contribution to establishing and defending Israel's independence is incalculable and his devotion to peace undisputed," Boehner added.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, hailed Sharon's courage "in his decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip," by pulling Israeli forces and settlers out in 2005.

"It was a difficult choice founded in the same tenet that defined so much of Sharon's career: the national security interest of the people and the nation of Israel," Pelosi said in a statement.

"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dedicated his life to building, defending, and leading the state of Israel. He was a soldier and an officer, a public servant to his people and a powerful voice for his beliefs and values," she added.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, praised Sharon as "a legendary military man," who "distinguished himself as a strategist and a soldier in virtually every major Israeli conflict of the second half of the 20th century."

"Israel has lost one of its greatest sons and America a friend in the passing of Ariel Sharon," McConnell added.

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