Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon Dies

Ariel SharonAfter 8 years in a coma former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died. According to Israeli Army radio, surrounded by family, the 85-year-old Sharon died at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer just outside Tel Aviv.

Hospital officials said the legendary leader’s vital organs failed, including his kidneys and his lungs.

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A general and warrior who fought in three wars suffered a stroke in January 2006, while he was still in office, and remained comatose since then.

The controversial leader will likely be remembered for leading Israel out of the Gaza Strip and his historic trip to the Temple Mount at the start of the second intifada.

Eventually Gaza was taken over by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement upon Israel’s departure.

Sharon was a commander in the Israeli Army from its inception in 1948. As a paratrooper and then an officer, he participated prominently in the 1948 War of Independence, becoming a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade and taking part in many battles, including Operation Ben Nun Alef. He was an instrumental figure in the creation of Unit 101, and the Retribution operations, as well as in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition, and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. As Minister of Defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War.

Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project (TIP), described Sharon as an "embodiment of the Jewish state and a heroic protector of her people, who will be remembered not only for his strength, but for his courage in pursuit of peace. Sharon's contributions to bolstering the US-Israel relationship made both nations safer, and kindled the bonds of democracy, liberty, and shared values that we care so much about."

According to TIP Sharon was elected amid a terror war that Palestinian figures at the time boasted had been months if not years in the planning, and which had finally erupted after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat refused a July 2000 peace offer from Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak. Analysts emphasized at the time that the violence, which would eventually take the lives of literally thousands, was suffocating the chances for peace.

Following a wave of suicide bombings - and immediately after the March 2002 attack on a Passover Seder in Netanya in which 30 people were killed - Sharon initiated Israel's Operation Defensive Shield to uproot the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. In the immediate aftermath saw a 46 percent drop in suicide bombings, and by the second half of the year a 70 percent drop.

In 2003 Sharon navigated the Likud party through legislative elections from which it emerged victorious, ensuring his continued tenure as prime minister. He would eventually split from the center-right Likud after securing and executing the politically controversial Disengagement plan - adopted in 2004 and enacted in 2005 - that removed all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the West Bank.

The spokesperson for the Israeli leader posted on Twitter "His memory will live forever in the nation's heart.”

A state funeral will be organized for Sharon by the Prime Minister's Office. Leaders from around the world are expected to attend.

Sharon is survived by his two sons, Omri and Gilad, and several grandchildren.