Israel boosts security for Sharon funeral near Gaza border

JERUSALEM Sun Jan 12, 2014 9:00pm EST

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JERUSALEM Jan 13 (Reuters) - Israel beefed up security for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral near the Gaza border on Monday and warned the enclave's Palestinian rulers not to allow rocket fire during the ceremony, which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden planned to attend.

Sharon died at the age of 85 on Saturday after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke. A memorial service will be held on Monday in parliament in Jerusalem, before an afternoon funeral at the Sharon family farm about 10 km (6 miles) from Gaza.

Foreign dignitaries, including Biden, were due to attend the state ceremony for Sharon in Jerusalem. The White House said the vice president would also travel to the burial at Sycamore Farm.

An Israeli security source said Israel had "passed the message" to Gaza authorities to prevent any rocket fire during the funeral. Gaza is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, which has fought several rounds of violence with Israel over the past few years.

"It was made clear to them that tomorrow would be a very bad day for anyone there to test Israel's patience," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate response from the Hamas government. Egyptian officials, who in the past have served as mediators between Israel and Hamas, were unavailable for comment.

At times of heightened tension Israel steps up aerial patrols of Gaza with helicopters and drones designed to spot Palestinian rocket crews and hit them with guided missiles before they can carry out a launch.

Channel Two television reported that Israel was redeploying its Iron Dome rocket interceptor for improved protection of the farm, which had been hit by Gaza-launched rockets in the past.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the army did not comment on such matters, but that its forces "were taking part in the security arrangements for the funeral".

Since a 2012 eight-day war with Israel, Hamas has largely held fire but smaller militant groups have occasionally challenged its authority with their own rocket attacks into Israel. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Meredith Mazzilli)

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