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Exceptional Soldier’ Ariel Sharon Honored at Memorial Service

Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to Ariel Sharon’s “indomitable” spirit and reiterated America’s commitment to Israel in a speech at the former prime minister's state memorial service on Monday.

“[Sharon] had a North Star from which he never deviated,” Biden told a crowd featuring hundreds of Israel VIPs, diplomats and foreign dignitaries outside the country's parliament. “His North Star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided. Because he possessed such incredible physical courage and political courage I would argue he never deviated from that."

Image: Vice President Joe Biden speaks near Ariel Sharon's flag-draped coffin on Monday
Vice President Joe Biden speaks near Ariel Sharon's flag-draped coffin at a memorial service in Jerusalem on Monday. Darren Whiteside / Reuters

Biden said that some of the decisions taken by Israel’s 11th prime minister had been controversial, citing Sharon ordering 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip "in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel."

Whether they agreed or disagreed with his policies he said the U.S. had been unflagging in its commitment to the state of Israel and had never failed to defend their legitimacy, something Biden said would never change.

“May the bond between Israel and the United States never, ever be broken,” he said.

President Barack Obama, who took office in 2009 and made his first presidential visit to Israel last year, did not attend.

Israeli President Shimon Peres also paid tribute to Sharon, who died Saturday after being in a coma for eight years following a stroke.

"We are accompanying to his final resting place today, a soldier, an exceptional soldier, a commander who knew how to win," Peres said.

Later Monday, Sharon's body was due to be taken from the Knesset to his farm in southern Israel for burial.

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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.