Israel Readies for Sharon's Funeral as Foreign Leaders Set to Arrive

Traffic disruptions are expected on Route 1, at the entrance to Jerusalem, Latrun and the northern Negev, but Ben-Gurion Airport should function as normal.

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World leaders were due to begin arriving in Israel overnight as Israel prepares to bury former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday in a day of ceremonies that will highlight his military and political contributions to the country.

Intermittent traffic disruptions are expected Monday on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway (Route 1,) at the entrance to Jerusalem, at Latrun and in the vicinity of Sharon's ranch in the Negev. No disruptions are anticipated at Ben-Gurion Airport, where some 23 delegations of foreign dignitaries will be arriving.

The dignitaries include U.S. Vice President Biden and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Czech Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok will also attend.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, whose term in office coincided with Sharon's premiership, is not expected to attend the funeral because he is taking care of his elderly mother and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Heavy vehicles will be barred from using Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem starting early on Monday morning. Heavy traffic will be accommodated on Route 443.

From midnight Sunday until 7:30 A.M. Monday, Route 334 will be closed between Ivim and Sde Zvi junctions to all vehicles except those of local residents. From 7:30 A.M. until the end of the funeral, the road will be closed to all vehicles.

Sharon's funeral will begin at 9:30 A.M. on Monday with an official ceremony at the Knesset, where Sharon's body lay in state on Sunday. Keynote speeches will be delivered at the ceremony by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Vice President Joe Biden.

The vice president is also due to speak at Monday's funeral for Sharon in Jerusalem and attend the former prime minister's burial service.

During his visit in Israel as the head of the U.S. delegation to Sharon's funeral, Biden will hold talks with Israeli leaders. In his meeting with Netnayahu, Biden will try to further Middle East peace efforts and east Israeli concerns about nuclear talks with Iran, according to a leading U.S. lawmaker also flying to Tel Aviv on Sunday.

At the conclusion of the Knesset ceremony, the funeral cortege will leave Jerusalem for Sycamore Ranch, Sharon's farm in the Negev.

Sharon's body will be carried in an IDF armored vehicle, accompanied by eight Israel Defense Forces generals - Deputy Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, military attaché to the U.S. Gadi Shamni, Israel Navy Commander Ram Rotber, Israel Air Force Chief Amir Eshel, Ground Forces Commander Guy Zur, GOC Southern Command Shlomo Turgeman, Military Intelligence Chief Aviv Kochavi and GOC Northern Command Yair Golan.

On the way to the Negev, the cortege will stop at the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial, where the IDF General Staff will hold a salute for the former general. Sharon was wounded at Latrun as a young officer during the War of Independence. The ceremony will be held at the memorial wall, on which are engraved the names of all the IDF fallen from Israel's military campaigns. The Latrun ceremony will not be open to the public.

The burial itself is scheduled to take place at 2:00 P.M. on Anemone Hill, a ridge overlooking Sharon's home, Sycamore Ranch, where his wife Lily is buried.

The burial will be a military ceremony in accordance with established military protocol for deceased IDF generals. The speakers at the funeral will include Sharon's sons, Omri and Gilad and the IDF Chief of Staff Bennie Gantz. The chief military rabbi, Brigadier Rafi Peretz, will read from Psalms and the chief military cantor, Brigadier Shai Abramson will recite El Mole Rahamim, the prayer for the dead.

The funeral will be open to the public, though entry to the actual graveside on Anemone Hill will be restricted to some 600 - 700 invited guests. The thousands of members of the Israeli public who are expected to attend the funeral will be accommodated in an area a small distance from the graveside, where the ceremony will be shown on large screens.

The Israel Police, IDF and Airports Authority are prepared for the traffic and crowds that are expected on Monday. The funeral arrangements have been codenamed Operation Anemones by the security forces.

"Ben-Gurion Airport, in cooperation with all the appropriate bodies, including the police and the Foreign Ministry, is fully prepared for the arrival of the international delegations and their transport to the funeral," the Airports Authority said in a statement on Sunday.

The regular functioning of the airport is not expected to be affected by the arrival of the foreign delegations.

Two huge U.S. cargo planes arrived on Sunday carrying armored cars and other equipment for the U.S. delegation, headed by Vice President Joe Biden.

Traffic in the vicinity of Latrun, the Beit Kana junction in the northern Negev and Sycamore Ranch is expected to be disrupted intermittently from 8:30 A.M. on Monday. Hundreds of police and military police will be deployed in the area of the ranch to manage traffic.

Three car parks will be available in the nearby communities of Sapir, Dorot and Ruchama and busses will run between the car parks and the farm.

"We anticipate that many thousands of people will be at the ranch and we will do everything possible to ensure that everything functions smoothly," a senior defense ministry source said. He wouldn't relate to questions about security arrangements, saying only that "security arrangements have been made."

A spokesman for the Israel Police traffic division advised motorists to avoid driving to Jerusalem in private vehicles on Monday. "Due the heavy traffic into Jerusalem that is anticipated, people travelling to Jerusalem are advised to use public transport," the spokesman said.

With reporting by Jonathan Lis, Barak Ravid, Gili Cohen, Zohar Blumenkrantz and Reuters.

Peres lays a wreath by the coffin of late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset Plaza.Credit: AP
Sharon and George W. Bush, Texas 2005
Begin and Sharon in Elon Moreh, 1978
Ariel Sharon in Beirut, 1982
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Sharon and George W. Bush, Texas 2005Credit: Reuters
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Begin and Sharon in Elon Moreh, 1978Credit: Herman Hananya / GPO
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Ariel Sharon in Beirut, 1982Credit: AP
Ariel Sharon

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