Thousands of Israelis have bid farewell to former prime minister Ariel Sharon as his body lay in state outside parliament in Jerusalem, the Knesset.

Mr Sharon's remains are lying in state today, before a memorial service is held tomorrow morning, followed by an afternoon full state funeral near Sycamore Farm, Mr Sharon's residence in southern Israel.

The Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies convened late yesterday evening to discuss funeral arrangements for the former statesman.

Limor Livnat, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister said at the meeting that Mr Sharon was a great leader, commander and general who was among the best that Israel ever had.

Mr Livnat said Mr Sharon's family were in agreement with the arrangements.

Mr Sharon, a trail-blazing and controversial warrior-statesman who stunned Arab foes with his dramatic turnarounds, died yesterday aged 85, after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke.

Among foreign dignitaries expected to attend the funeral are US Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to an Israeli official.

Mr Sharon died at Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, where he had been in a coma since being hit by a stroke at the pinnacle of his power as prime minister in January 2006.

His condition had declined steeply since the middle of last week.