Former Prime Minister – Ariel Sharon, the general-turned-politician who inspired both love and hate as one of Israel’s most controversial leaders, has died at the age of 85, after eight years in a coma.
Sharon’s son Gilad told reporters of the death on Saturday afternoon.
“He has gone. He went when he decided to go,” Gilad Sharon told reporters outside the hospital where his father had been treated in recent years.
The former Israeli prime minister, known as the “bulldozer” for his bold tactics, became incapacitated after a devastating stroke at the peak of his political power.
In early January, 2014, doctors said Sharon’s family was by his bedside at a hospital near Tel Aviv as his condition deteriorated.
Sharon had a first, milder stroke in December, 2005. He was put on blood thinners before suffering a severe brain hemorrhage on Jan. 4, 2006.
His incapacitation came as a shock to many Israelis, who had expected Sharon to lead his new Kadima party to victory in pending elections. Sharon had left the Likud party just weeks earlier to form the new movement.
Acting prime minister Ehud Olmert became his successor, and went on to win the March 2006 elections, but by a smaller margin than was expected with Sharon at the helm.
Sharon’s death brings a quiet end to a turbulent life.
Many Israelis consider him a war hero who defended the country through some of its greatest struggles. However, he is widely hated by many in the Arab world for the bloody military campaigns he led against Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.
Sharon was born the son of Shmuel and Dvora Scheinermann, Russian immigrants in the agricultural village of Kfar Malal in British-mandate Palestine on February 27, 1928.
He was widowed twice, and had two sons.
A born soldier, Sharon joined the Hagana, an underground military organization that provided security to Jewish towns and settlements, at the age of 14.
In the early 1950s, he led an attack in Jordan that became known as the Massacre of Kibya. Sixty-nine civilians were killed, most of them women and children.
During the Six-Day War of June 1967, he commanded a division that led to the capture of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon also masterminded the counterattack across the Suez Canal that effectively ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
By the 1970s, Sharon was fully engaged in politics as well. He was first elected to Israel’s parliament, or the Knesset, in 1973, but resigned one year later. He was re-elected in 1977.
He led the first invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to uproot a small group of Palestinians who aimed to carry out raids on Israel. He managed to root out the PLO, but not without scores of casualties that would later cause him to be expelled from the Knesset.
In 1983, a year after he led the invasion of southern Lebanon, an inquiry found him responsible for the slaughter of more than 800 Arab refugees, and he was forced to resign as defence minister under Menachem Begin.
Sharon gave up his post but remained in the Knesset. By 1996, he returned to cabinet. In 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu named Sharon foreign affairs minister in a Likud government.
When Netanyahu lost to Labour’s Ehud Barak in the 1999 election, Sharon became leader of the party he’d helped found.
In 2000, Sharon was blamed for triggering the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) with his visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, a site also holy to Jews.
However, on Feb. 6, 2001, Sharon defeated Barak by a huge margin, taking 62.5 per cent of the vote.
He called upon his Palestinian neighbours to cast off the “path of violence” and resolve the conflicts by peaceful means. Instead, Palestinian suicide bombers continued to target Israelis, prompting Israeli helicopter gunships to retaliate in an unending cycle of violence.
Though he refused to back down from Israel’s policy of “targeted killings,” Sharon took steps towards peace. On May 25, 2003, his cabinet reluctantly accepted the U.S.-backed ‘road map to peace’ by a vote of 12-7.
He promised to dismantle “unauthorized outposts” in the West Bank, but also committed to the building of a “security barrier” around the West Bank, which some Palestinians denounced as a land grab.
In the summer of 2005, Sharon began to carry out his plans to withdraw Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, a shocking reversal for a man who had been a leading player in constructing Jewish settlements in captured territories. This led to significant tensions within Likud, and Benjamin Netanyahu led an unsuccessful effort to overthrow Sharon.
In response, Sharon again shocked his nation by announcing that he would be quitting Likud and forming a new centrist party. Old political foes like Labour’s Shimon Peres announced he would join with Sharon.
But Sharon would never recover from his first stroke. After spending months at the Jerusalem hospital where he was first treated, Sharon was transferred to a long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital. Though he was taken home for a brief period, he was taken back to the hospital where he spent his final days.