The Israeli public gathered at the Knesset today to pay their last respects to former prime minister Ariel Sharon. A state memorial for the 85-year-old controversial military and political leader is to be held on Monday (January 13) with the participation of Israeli and world leaders. Sharon’s body will then be taken for burial at his ranch in southern Israel.

Sharon died on Saturday after eight years in a coma. He was at the height of his political career when he suffered a serious stroke in 2006.

“My dear friend, Arik Sharon… was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision. He knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them. We all loved him and he will be greatly missed. I send my condolences to the Sharon family. May he rest in peace,” President Shimon Peres said of Sharon.

US President Barack Obama sent condolences to Sharon’s family and the country, calling the former prime minister a “leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.”

“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries,” Obama said in a statement.

Vice President Joe Biden said he would lead the US delegation to Sharon’s memorial service.

“Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as Prime Minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Sharon was born under the name Ariel Scheinerman in 1928 in Kfar Malal. His father was an agronomist and his mother was a medical student who never completed her studies.