Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health declines

Doctors for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reported that his condition has worsened. Sharon, known to some as 'the bulldozer,' has been incapacitated for eight years.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty, Pool, File
In this file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pauses during a weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office. Physicians of the former leader, who has been comatose for the past eight years, say his health has deteriorated.

The medical condition of the comatose former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sharply deteriorated Wednesday, the hospital treating him said.

Sharon has been in a coma since 2006. Since then, he has been in a vegetative state, connected to a respirator. His family has said that he sometimes opens his eyes and moves his fingers.

Amir Marom, a spokesman for Tel Hashomer hospital, where Sharon has been treated for most of the past eight years, said Wednesday that Sharon's medical condition has "deteriorated in the past few days." He refused to elaborate. Contacted by The Associated Press, Sharon's son, Omri, refused to comment.

Sharon was one of Israel's most iconic and controversial figures. As one of Israel's most famous generals, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as "the bulldozer," a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done. A prominent hard-line voice over the decades, he was elected prime minister in 2001.

In mid-2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending a 38-year military control of the territory. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements in captured territories.

He later bolted his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. He appeared on his way to an easy re-election when he took ill in January 2006. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over and was elected prime minister a few months later.

After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital. He was taken home briefly at one point but returned to the hospital, where he has been since.

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