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Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon dies

John Reed
Israeli right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon gestures during a visit to an army lookout in Tovlan in the Jordan valley 03 January 2001.
Philippe Desmazes | AFP | Getty Images

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister and military leader who was a defining face of the Israeli rightwing for many years, has died in hospital aged 85, Israeli Army radio said on Saturday, quoting a relative of his family.

Sharon, who had been in a coma since suffering a brain haemorrhage in January 2006, had suffered kidney failure in recent days. He died at the Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Known by his nickname Arik, Sharon was the last surviving former Israeli prime minister to have played a role in the country's history since its independence years.

During a long military career he fought in Israel's war of independence in 1948, the 1956 Suez campaign, the 1967 Six Day war, and the Yom Kippur war in 1973.

He held ministerial roles in several Israeli governments, including that of defence minister under Menachem Begin during the first Lebanon war in 1982.

Sharon became prime minister of Israel from 2001 to 2005 during the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israeli rule, after winning landslide victories in two elections.

Among Palestinians and other Arabs, he was reviled as the man in charge during the September 1982 massacres by Christian Phalangist militia of at least 1,000 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.

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Sharon is also widely held to have lit the spark for the second intifada by taking the decision in 2000 to visit the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, site of the Dome of the Rock, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

In his home country he will be remembered both for having fought in some of the country's toughest military campaigns and for having taken the now-controversial decision to withdraw Israeli troops unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, and to remove all settlements from Gaza and some from the occupied West Bank.

In 2005 Sharon left the rightwing Likud party to form Kadima ('Forward'), a centrist party that went on to win the 2006 election under his deputy Ehud Olmert's leadership.

Sharon suffered a stroke in December 2005 and was put in a medically induced coma in January 2006 after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage.

He is survived by two sons, Omri and Gilad.

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