UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon said Saturday he was "saddened" by the death of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and called on the country to build on his legacy of pragmatism to press ahead with the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.
Ban offered his condolences to the late leader's bereaved family and to the government and people of Israel.
"Throughout a life dedicated to the State of Israel, Ariel Sharon was a hero to his people, first as a soldier and then a statesman," Xinhua quoted Ban in a statement.
Sharon will be remembered for "his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip", he said, adding that Sharon's successor faces the difficult challenge of realising the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
"The Secretary-General calls on Israel to build on the late prime minister's legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel," the statement said.
Sharon, 85, passed away Saturday after being commatose for eight years since he suffered a stroke in January 2006. He was then replaced by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of his center-left Kadima party, which Sharon established after leaving the right-wing Likud party.
He died Saturday at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.
Sharon will be laid to rest at a site close to his family's Sycamore Ranch in southern Israel and will be buried next to his second wife Lily Sharon, who died of cancer 14 years ago. His first wife Margalit was killed in a car accident in 1962. In 1968, his 11-year-old son Gur was killed while playing with a gun.