Officials at an Israeli hospital said Thursday that Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel, was in grave to serious condition. Israeli Army Radio reported Saturday that Sharon is dead at age 85, after being in an eight-year coma.
Sharon was a leader of Israeli military and political operations for half a century. He was a national war hero and seen by many Israelis in the community as possessing the utmost leadership skills as a uniformed employee of the state and as a civilian. He was a public figure during every Israeli war in his lifetime.
The former leader was a major public figure during some of the most defining events over the last couple of decades in the Middle East. He made the decision to give over parts of Gaza and also parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control. Hamas, the militant squad controlling the Gaza Strip, released a statement upon Sharon’s death, cheering his passing and declaring “extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal.”
Sharon was not seen as a liberating peacemaker throughout the Arab world. He was a polarizing figure, given the nickname of “The Butcher of Beirut” by many Arabs, after he commenced plans to invade Lebanon in 1982, at which time he was serving as defense minister of Israel.
He was also called a “Bulldozer,” and was regarded as someone to fear because of the relentless approach he took to getting things done. Many followed Sharon’s career closely because of his association with Lebanon.
Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after it was proved that he did not do enough to prevent the mass killings of Palestinian refugees in Beirut by Christian Phalangists. The massacre occurred at Beirut’s Shatila and Sabra camps, for which he was blamed for the massacre of the Palestinians and civilians.
During his fifth year as prime minister, in Jan. 2006, Sharon was felled by a massive stroke. He had been in a coma ever since. Sharon died at the Sheba Medical Center, in a suburb of Tel Aviv called Tel Hashomer.
After Sharon’s stroke, Ehud Olmert became the prime minister. He first served as interim leader, but then won an election in March of 2006, making him the official prime minister.
Sharon’s heartbeat and blood pressure were fine a week ago, and doctors believed that they had kept an infection in his bloodstream under control. But Sharon was also experiencing kidney failure, which was complicating the infection in his bloodstream.
Zeev Rotstein, the director of the hospital, said that people had been coming every day to visit the former prime minister after his condition took a turn for the worse. Rotstein also said visitors came to comfort Sharon’s sons during this difficult time. Sharon’s family was at his bedside when he passed away.
Ariel Sharon will be remembered differently by many people in the Middle East. The former prime minister of Israel is dead after an eight-year coma.
By Nick Manai