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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 17:05 GMT
Remains of Israeli astronaut go home
An Israeli airforce officer honour guard carry the coffin of Ilan Ramon during a memorial service at the Lod Air Force Base outside Tel Aviv
Colonel Ramon is to be buried in a private ceremony
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has welcomed home the remains of astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed when the Columbia space shuttle broke up over Texas.

Ilan Ramon, before the Columbia's take-off
Israelis watched the shuttle's launch with pride
Colonel Ramon, killed with six other crew members on 1 February, was the first Israeli in space and the source of great national pride.

In life, as well as death, he was a symbol of the "absolute link" between Israel and its "very best friend the United States," Mr Sharon told mourners on Monday.

Mr Sharon and other top officials were attending a ceremony at an airbase near Tel Aviv following the arrival from the US of Colonel Ramon's remains.

Country's sadness

Mr Sharon, wearing a black skullcap, offered condolences to the astronaut's family, saying he was a symbol of Israel.

"We never imagined your return home would be this way," Mr Sharon said. "His boyish face dug deep into our souls.

"He represented Israel as we like to see it.

"Our heart goes out to the other families and to the American people."

At the ceremony, Colonel Ramon's teenage son Assaf wore one of his father's Nasa flight jackets, and wrapped an arm around a younger brother.

The astronaut's wife and five-year-old daughter were also there as his coffin arrived.

The family has been living in Texas for the past few years as Colonel Ramon prepared for the flight.

Ilan Ramon, 48, was the son of an Auschwitz survivor, who grew up to become a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force and fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

The astronaut's family is to hold a private funeral in northern Israel on Tuesday.

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The BBC's Helen Callaghan
"His passing has left a nation in grief"

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05 Feb 03 | Americas
01 Feb 03 | Middle East
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