Controversial former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has been laid to rest at his ranch in the southern Negev desert.

Mr Sharon died at the age of 85 on Saturday after spending eight years in a coma after suffering a stroke at the height of a decades-long career which saw him lauded as a military hero and statesman, but also reviled by and accused of being a war criminal.

Eight military generals carried Mr Sharon's coffin to the grave alongside that of his second wife, as a Jewish cantor intoned a traditional prayer for the dead.

Removing the blue and white Israeli flag draped over it, the generals lowered the coffin into the ground, then began filling the grave with dirt.

In accordance with tradition, a military rabbi went up to Mr Sharon's two sons and made a symbolic cut in each of their shirts as a sign of mourning.

"Arik, the commander. You had many titles over the years, but I think this is the one that suited you most," said Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz at the graveside, using Mr Sharon's nickname.

"Generations of soldiers came to salute you for the last time today ...  I came to salute you too."

Mr Sharon, who was born into a farming community north of Tel Aviv in 1928, had wanted to be buried at his family home in Sycamore Ranch, which lies just kilometres from the border with Gaza, which is run by Hamas.

Earlier, a state memorial for Mr Sharon took place in Jerusalem.

The ceremony was held outside the Knesset parliament building in the presence of Israeli and foreign dignitaries.

"You never rested in service of your people, when defending your land and making it flourish," said Israeli President Shimon Peres in a eulogy delivered at the start of the service.

"The land from which you came will embrace you in the warm arms of the history of our nation to which you added an unforgettable chapter," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Vice President Joe Biden and former British prime minister Tony Blair also spoke at the ceremony.

The US and Britain were among 18 countries to send delegations to the ceremony.

"The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission - a non-breakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now," Mr Biden said.

Mr Netanyahu, noting he had not always seen eye-to-eye with Mr Sharon on policy matters, hailed the former leader's commitment to Israel's security.

"Arik understood that in matters of our existence and security, we must stand firm. We are sticking to these principles," he said.

Security was stepped up for the ceremonies today, with sources saying Israel had deployed an Iron Dome rocket interceptor near Mr Sharon's Sycamore Farm.

The farm has been hit by rockets launched from Gaza in the past.

Mr Sharon's death has reopened the debate into his legacy.

His enemies have denounced his ruthless conduct in military operations.

However, friends praised him as a strategic genius who pulled Israeli troops and settlers out of Gaza.