Rest in Peace (תנוח בשלום על משכבו !) Israel’s ex-PM Ariel Sharon dies
He was a giant of Israel’s military and political scene, but courted controversy throughout his long career.
The head of the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv said Mr Sharon had died on Saturday afternoon of heart failure.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he was a great warrior but a senior Palestinian said his path was war and aggression.
“His memory will live forever in the nation’s heart”, the Israeli leader’s spokesman said on Twitter.
But leading Palestinian political figure Mustafa Barghouti said while no-one should gloat at his death, Mr Sharon had taken “a path of war and aggression” and had left “no good memories with Palestinians”.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of a leader “who dedicated his life to the State of Israel”.
The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said he had shaped the current state of the West Bank and Israel’s relations with the Palestinians more than any other Israeli politician in recent years.
Ariel Sharon fought in Israel’s war of independence in 1948, and from that point until he slipped into a coma in 2006 it seemed there was hardly a moment of national drama in which he did not play a role, our correspondent says.
The 85-year-old became PM in 2001 and in 2005 completed a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, months before he suffered a massive stroke.
His health had declined for the past week and a half, Sheba Medical Centre Director Professor Shlomo Noy told reporters.
“Over the past week he struggled with surprising strength and determination against the deterioration in his condition. Today he departed peacefully with his loving family at his side.”
One of his two sons, Gilad Sharon, said outside the hospital: “He has gone. He went when he decided to go.”
He had been in a persistent vegetative state since a stroke in 2006 and Professor Noy said he had suffered “ups and downs” throughout that period.
Ariel Sharon died during the Jewish Sabbath and the BBC’s Yolande Knell said a ministerial committee would meet in the coming hours to decide what steps to take.
It is believed Mr Sharon’s body may lie in state at Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, before a big state funeral is held. He will finally be buried at his ranch in the Negev desert, our correspondent says.
Posted by Addisu Wond.