2 Jan 2014

Ariel Sharon's health deteriorates

6:57 pm on 2 January 2014

Doctors treating former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon say there has been a serious deterioration in his condition.

The 85-year-old became prime minister in 2001, but in December 2005 suffered a mild stroke. After a second, major stroke in 2006, he went into a coma and has been in a persistent vegetative state ever since.

Ariel Sharon as leader in 2005.

Ariel Sharon as leader in 2005. Photo: AFP

Doctors are believed to be discussing the prospects for medical intervention with members of his family gathered at his bedside, the BBC reports.

Many Israelis, even some who didn't support him during his political career, admired his military record (he fought in three wars in the Middle East), although as soldier and statesman he was frequently controversial.

In the Arab world, he was hated. While serving as defence minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel's invasion of Lebanon. During this, Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in two Beirut refugee camps under Israeli control.

The following year an Israeli commission of inquiry ruled that he carried personal responsibility for allowing the massacres to take place.

He was nevertheless elected prime minister 18 years later, pledging to achieve "security and true peace", and served until his second stroke.

Mr Sharon was a keen promoter of the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and also initiated the construction of the controversial West Bank barrier.

However, in 2005, despite fierce opposition in Israel, he ordered the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.