UK & World News

  • 12 January 2014, 4:51

Ariel Sharon: Israel's Former-PM Dies

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has died following a long illness.

The 85-year-old's son was quoted as saying he had died, eight years since a stroke at the height of his powers left him in a coma.

Gilad Sharon said: "He has gone. He went when he decided to go."

Sheba Medical Centre, where he was being treated, said he died at around 2pm (midday UK time).

His body will lie in state in theKnesset, before his funeral takes place at a ranch in theNegev desert.

Mr Sharon's condition suddenly deteriorated on January 1 when he suffered serious kidney problems after surgery.

Nicknamed 'The Bulldozer', the veteran soldier fought in all of Israel's major wars before beginning a turbulent political career in 1973.

Long considered a pariah for his personal but "indirect" responsibility for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, he was elected premier in 2001.

Ministers in Israel's right-wing government and the political opposition mourned a leader who leftbig footprints on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a unilateraldecision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

President ShimonPeres said: "My dear friend, Arik Sharon, lost his final battle today.

"Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel's great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision."

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement: "The nation of Israel has today lost a dear man, a great leader and a bold warrior."

There was no immediate comment on the death from PalestinianPresident Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Mr Sharon's Likud party successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been holdingUS-sponsored peace talks.

But in Gaza, Hamas welcomed Mr Sharon's death and celebrated in the streets.

"We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi said.

"Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated.

"Israel has today lost an important leader."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Ariel Sharon was a figure who dominated Israeli politics for a generation. Nobody can doubt the impact he had on MiddleEast politics."

US President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Mr Sharon's family, saying: "We join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country."

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