The iconic but controversial former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has died after his medical condition significantly deteriorated, his son confirmed to the media.
The 85-year-old politician died in Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer hospital, also known as the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, where he had been in a coma since January 2006 after suffering a stroke and brain hemorrhage.
For nearly eight years Sharon was on respiratory life support, occasionally opening his eyes and moving fingers. He was supported by fluids through a feeding tube.
Signs that his health was failing started coming shortly before the New Year, with a spokesman for the hospital reporting deterioration in Sharon’s medical condition. The ex-PM was suffering from “serious kidney problems” after undergoing surgery, army radio said.
News website Ynet quoted medical sources as saying Sharon was taken into intensive care a month ago.
“We are defining his condition as critical, and there is definitely a threat to his life,” Zeev Rotstein, director of the Sheba Medical Center, told reporters. “The feeling of everyone … is that this decline is very serious.”
In September, Sharon underwent surgery to correct his intravenous feeding system.
Last January, neurological MRI scans revealed significant brain activity in the former PM’s brain. Medical staff recorded a positive response to family pictures, a recording of his son’s voice and human touch.
Sharon, one of Israel’s most famous generals, was an iconic figure of his time, yet some of his policies remain controversial to this day.
As a military commander, Sharon sometimes disobeyed orders and followed bold and often risky tactics in battle. As a politician he was known as “the bulldozer,” a man capable of getting things done.
Rising from the rank of paratrooper to Defense Minister, Sharon played a prominent part in several of Israel’s armed conflicts – the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 and the 1982 Lebanon War.
By 1967, his military genius in the Six-Day War earned him the name of “The King of Israel” and “The Lion of God” with the Israeli public.
Sharon resigned as a Defense Minister in 1983 after a commission of inquiry found him personally liable for failing to prevent the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatilla camps by Christian Phalangists.
After retiring from the army, Sharon joined and later led the Likud party, leaving it in 2005 to form the new Kadima party.
A military hawk, he was Israel’s prominent hard-liner when he was elected prime minister in 2001.
In mid-2005 he ended 38 years of military control of the Gaza Strip after directing a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the territory, a shock for those who supported Sharon’s championing of the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.