Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the trailblazing former general who was in a coma for eight years after suffering a stroke at the height of his power, died yesterday aged 85, his family and the government said.
Sharon’s son Gilad announced the death at the hospital where his father had been treated. Doctors there had predicted his imminent death after his health declined sharply last week.
Ministers in Israel’s right-wing government, and the political opposition, mourned a tough and wily leader who left big footprints on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a shock, unilateral decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“The nation of Israel has today lost a dear man, a great leader and a bold warrior,” Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment on the death from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Sharon’s Likud party successor, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been holding US-sponsored peace talks.
However, in Gaza, the Hamas Islamists whose political fortunes rose with the Israeli withdrawal savored Sharon’s demise.
“We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi, whose movement preaches the destruction of the Jewish state.