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Israel's Ariel Sharon, in Coma Since 2006, Dead at 85

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died at a hospital near Tel Aviv. He was 85.

He had been in a coma since 2006, after suffering a massive stroke.

President Barack Obama and other world leaders sent condolence messages to Israel and to Mr. Sharon's family. Palestinians who had seen the former minister as a bitter enemy rejoiced at the news of his death.

Sheba Medical Center Director Shlomo Noy says Mr. Sharon died "in peace" on Saturday with his family at his side, without ever having regained full consciousness during the past seven years.

However, Noy added, "Over the past week [Mr. Sharon] struggled with surprising strength and determination against the deterioration in his condition."

A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.

At times during the past seven years, Noy said, the former military and political leader was in a state of "minimal consciousness," but there was never any verbal communication with him.

Ariel Sharon was one of Israel's military heroes long before becoming prime minister in 2001, and the stroke that left him incapacitated came at the height of his power. He was replaced as prime minister by Ehud Olmert.

Israel's current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said there is "deep sorrow" in the Jewish state over Mr. Sharon's death. Mr. Sharon says the former leader will live forever in the nation's heart.

Mr. Sharon is perhaps best remembered as a tough leader who spared no action to defend Israelis. He oversaw Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Natan Sachs is a fellow at the Brookings Institutions' Saban Center for Middle East Policy. In a VOA interview, he said Sharon has "many legacies" - as a military general and, later, as the country's leader.

"A very beloved prime minister, one that many Israelis turned to as a certain father figure. A very seasoned politician, in contrast to much younger politicians who seem to have failed, such as [Benjamin] Netanyahu, such as Ehud Barak. Sharon seemed to be the very steady hand in the very traumatic days of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) in the early 2000s."

Omri Ceren is a senior adviser at The Israel Project, a pro-Israel nonprofit group in Washington. He told VOA Mr. Sharon is a figure of "overarching importance" in Israel's history for his role in reshaping the country's civil and military sectors.

"Sharon was both a military hero - at times, arguably one of the country's greatest military heroes in the aftermath of particular wars - but also a political giant," Ceren said. "He, in the military context, was thought to have been critical to winning - to literally, quite literally, winning - entire theaters during wars like the Yom Kippur War, the 1973 war. And politically, he quite literally redrew Israel's electoral map."

Mr. Sharon was a strong advocate and supporter of establishing Jewish settlements throughout the Palestinian territories bordering Israel.

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