Ariel Sharon's health suffers 'serious deterioration'

Ariel Sharon Mr Sharon served as Israeli prime minister from 2001 until a massive stroke in 2006

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The condition of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for almost eight years, has seriously deteriorated, the hospital treating him has told the BBC.

Israeli media reports say he has suffered renal failure.

Mr Sharon, 85, became prime minister in 2001, but in December 2005 he 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.

Having fought in three Middle Eastern wars, Mr Sharon is admired by many Israelis as a great military leader, but reviled by Palestinians.

While serving as defence minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel's invasion of Lebanon. During the invasion, 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. He also initiated the construction of the controversial West Bank barrier.

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

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