Ariel Sharon, former Israel PM, is dead

Tel Aviv, Jan 11: Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon passed away Saturday after being comatose for eight years. He was the first prime minister of Israel to visit India.

Sharon, 85, died at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv, Xinhua cited a hospital spokesperson as saying.

Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006 and slipped into a coma. His condition deteriorated last week after he suffered a kidney failure.

In 2003, Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India. He flew to New Delhi at the invitation of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

A former defence and foreign minister, Sharon — one of the most controversial Israeli leaders — took part in several Israeli military campaigns, playing a controversial role in the 1982 Lebanese war.

From being a leader of the Likud party, Sharon was often blamed for the second Palestinian intifada.

But after beginning his second term as prime minister in 2003, Sharon changed his attitude toward Palestinians. In 2005, he quit the Likud and set up the Kadima party, trying to offer a centre-left alternative.

Health issues, however, dragged him down, eventually leading to his death Saturday.

Sharon was born Feb 26, 1928 in Kfar Malal, an agrarian community in central Israel. In 1945, he enlisted in the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish armed force.

In 1948, he took part in the war of independence. He rose through the ranks as he fought in the 1956 Suez Canal War, the 1967 six-day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

After leaving the army, Sharon in 1973 helped Menachem Begin establish the Likud party, which grouped various right-wing parties.

In the same year, Sharon was elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, beginning a long political career.

He was defence minister from August 1981 to February 1983 and foreign minister from October 1998 to July 1999. In 1999 Sharon was elected leader of the Likud party.

In 2000, Sharon went on a controversial visit to the highly sensitive Temple Mount, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and declared that every Jew has a right to visit the mountain.

The Palestinians say this triggered the second intifada.

Sharon became prime minister in 2001. A wave of deadly Palestinian militant attacks led Sharon to orchestrate a military operation to conquer the West Bank territories ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

In 2003, Sharon and the Likud won by a landslide and he began his second term as prime minister.

Sharon seemingly changed his attitude towards the Palestinians and peace negotiations in 2003 when he endorsed the ‘Roadmap’ outline for peace put forth by the US, the European Union and Russia.

In 2005, Sharon orchestrated the ‘Disengagement Plan’ from the Gaza Strip, evacuating Israeli settlers and military camps.

This heightened tensions in his right-wing party. In November 2005, he withdrew from the Likud and established the Kadima party, trying to offer a centre-left alternative.

In December 2005, Sharon underwent a minor stroke. On Jan 4, 2006, he suffered another stroke and slipped into a coma. He was replaced by former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Sharon experienced several personal tragedies.

His first wife Margalit was killed in a car accident in 1962. In 1968, his 11-year-old son Gur was killed while playing with a gun. His second wife Lily died of cancer in 2000.

IANS