Profile: Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon has a thick skin and is proud of it. He does not care who loves or hates him - be they Israelis or Arabs.
The one aim in life for the former soldier and veteran politician was to ensure total security for Israel on his terms.
For most of his career, that meant keeping maximum land and political rights for the Jewish state and giving the very minimum of both to the Palestinians.
His mission - his enemies call it a dangerous obsession - has been to fight for Israel's security, believing all the while that the end justifies the means.
But his plans for Israeli settlers to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank - completed in August 2005 - provoked ire from his staunchest supporters and were repeatedly voted down by his right-wing Likud Party.
End Quote George W Bush, speaking as US president in 2002
I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace”
He finally left Likud in November to found a new party, Kadima (Forward), which scored a narrow win in the March 2006 parliamentary election.
Before he could lead Kadima into the election, though, Mr Sharon effectively left Israel's political stage.
News that he had suffered a mild stroke on 18 December 2005 came as a surprise to his personal doctor, Boleslaw Goldman, who said that he had had no serious health problems in the past other than being very overweight.
On 4 January 2006, he suffered a second, more serious stroke. He fell into a coma and has shown few signs of emerging, despite several operations.
His deputy, Ehud Olmert, then assumed his powers and was named prime minister after Kadima's election win.
On 12 November 2010, doctors decided to move him from the Tel Hashomer Hospital, near Tel Aviv, to his home in southern Israel for a trial period.Tough commander
Mr Sharon was born in Palestine in 1928, when it was a British mandate.
As a young man he joined the Jewish underground military organisation Haganah, and fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948-49 after the creation of the Jewish state.
In the 1950s he led a number of punitive military operations - one incident in 1953 when 50 houses in the village of Qibya were blown up, killing 69 residents.
Another in 1955 resulted in the deaths of 38 Egyptian troops in the Gaza Strip.
Mr Sharon rose to the rank of brigadier general and commanded a division during the Six-Day War of June 1967 in which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The harsh occupation measures that he enforced there gave many Palestinians their first taste of a man who has become their sworn enemy.
Mr Sharon was first elected to the Knesset in 1973, but resigned a year later to serve as a security adviser to Yitzhak Rabin.
He was later re-elected to the Israeli parliament in 1977.
Mr Sharon masterminded Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
As defence minister, and without explicitly telling Prime Minister Menachem Begin, he sent the Israeli army all the way to Beirut, a strike which ended in the expulsion of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Lebanon.
The move stopped the PLO using Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel, but also resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen in two Beirut refugee camps under Israeli control.
Mr Sharon was removed from office in 1983 by an Israeli tribunal investigating the 1982 Lebanon invasion, finding him indirectly responsible for the killings.Political comeback
For most politicians, an indictment of that kind would have meant the end of a political career.
But Mr Sharon remained a popular figure among the Israeli right, and he felt that if he bided his time, then another opportunity would present itself.
As housing minister in the early 1990s, he presided over the biggest building drive in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel occupied the territories in 1967.
- 1973: Elected Knesset member for Likud
- 1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's special security adviser
- 1977-81: Minister of Agriculture
- 1981-83: Minister of Defence
- 1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
- 1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
- 1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
- 1998-99: Foreign Minister
- 2001-2006: Prime Minister
- 2005: Left Likud to found Kadima
After Binyamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition came to power in 1996, the new Israeli prime minister bowed to pressure to include the former army general in his cabinet.
On appointing him as foreign minister in 1998, Mr Netanyahu said Mr Sharon was the best man for the job.
"We shouldn't deal with bygones," he said. "He has a record throughout his public life and during the past 15 years that people should be proud of."
Mr Sharon went on to become leader of the right-wing Likud Party in opposition after Mr Netanyahu's decisive defeat in the 1999 general election.
His son Omri recently pleaded guilty to providing false testimony and falsifying documents following an investigation into corruption in the funding of Mr Sharon's bid to lead Likud.
However, Mr Sharon has consistently denied involvement, and has not been charged.
After the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks, Mr Sharon sought to stir a public groundswell against the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, depicting him as a usurper ready to trade Jerusalem for a peace agreement.
''Barak does not have the right to give up Jerusalem, which the people received as a legacy,'' Mr Sharon said at a parliamentary session.New times, new party
His controversial visit in 2000 to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, a site which is also holy to Jews, was one of the sparks for the second Palestinian intifada (uprising).
Critics say Mr Sharon knew the visit would trigger violence and gambled on the Israeli public turning to a tough leader like him who would know how to handle it firmly.
0n 6 February 2001 he won a landslide victory, pledging to achieve "security and true peace" while insisting he would not be bound by previous negotiations with the Palestinians.
US President George W Bush called Mr Sharon a "man of peace" but his years in office have seen the prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians recede at times, while the policy with Syria appears to be marking time.
Following a spate of suicide bombings and attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel in the 1990s and beyond, Mr Sharon sought to fortify the state by building the controversial West Bank barrier.
However, he went on to withdraw from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank in the face of great hostility at home.
He ruled out any further unilateral withdrawals and said he envisioned a map of Israel's eventual borders - not to be made public until the end of final-status talks with the Palestinians.
Amid the growing dissent within Likud over the withdrawal from Gaza, Ariel Sharon left the party in 2005 along with many allies to form Kadima.
The party was seen by some largely as a vehicle for Mr Sharon, bringing together disparate politicians under the unifying influence of the veteran leader, but has been forced to find its own voice now that its founder has left the political stage.