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Hospital: Former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon is in grave condition

By Michael Schwartz and Holly Yan, CNN
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1836 GMT (0236 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The former Israeli prime minister is suffering from organ failure
  • Sharon has been in a coma since 2006
  • News broke last week that Sharon's health had worsened

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Officials at the hospital in Israel where former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being treated described him Thursday as being in "extremely critical" and "grave" condition, with his family is by his side.

"In the last few hours there has been a deterioration in Ariel Sharon's medical condition," said a spokesman for Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. "He continues to be in critical condition."

Earlier this week, the center's director, Zeev Rotstein, had said doctors were unable to stabilize Sharon's kidney function and other vital systems and that the danger to Sharon's life had grown.

The 85-year-old has been in a coma for eight years and is suffering from multiple organ failure. News broke last week that his health had recently worsened.

Doctors: Ariel Sharon's organs failing

Sharon is a highly decorated -- if controversial -- Israeli military figure who became prime minister in 2001. He became comatose in 2006, when he suffered a major stroke that led doctors to put him under anesthesia and on a respirator. His term as prime minister came to an end.

Rising through military ranks

Born in 1928 in Kfar Malal -- a community that would later become part of Israel -- Sharon graduated from high school in 1945 and began working with the Haganah, a militant group advocating for Israel's independence.

He began his rise through the Israeli military ranks in 1953. Sharon helped establish an elite commando unit and was eventually promoted to be an army major general. He held this rank during 1967's Six Day War, which ended with Israel controversially expanding its territory.

Sharon went on to play major roles in subsequent Israeli military conflicts as well, including as head of the army's Armored Reserve Division during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

He then began transitioning into government roles that included stints as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's military adviser, agriculture minister and defense minister from 1981 to 1983.

Invasion of Lebanon

Sharon also orchestrated Israel's invasion of Lebanon, an effort aimed at Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters that also left thousands of civilians dead and led many in the Arab world to call him the "Butcher of Beirut."

An official Israeli inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the September 1982 killings of as many as 2,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside of Beirut, Lebanon.

The report -- which led to Sharon's prompt resignation -- determined that the then-defense minister had done nothing to stop Christian militiamen allied with Israel from entering the camps, despite fears they might seek to avenge the killing of their leader the previous day.

Sharon did not stay out of the spotlight for long. His adviser Ranaan Gissin said Sharon "felt betrayed by his government." Sharon also sued Time for $50 million over a magazine article implying that he had foreknowledge of and played a greater role in the massacre. A New York jury in 1985 agreed that the article was negligent and defamatory, but ultimately ruled in the U.S.-based publisher's favor, finding no evidence of actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

Becoming prime minister

Sharon held several other Cabinet posts between 1984 and 2001, when he won a special election to become prime minister.

By then, as head of the Likud party, Sharon was considered a hawk. And early on, he took the offensive by sending tanks and troops into Palestinian territory and ordering the assassination of militant leaders.

But Sharon also took steps toward peace, such as agreeing with the PLO's then-leader, Yasser Arafat, on a timeline to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence and resume peace talks. But that effort was undermined by Sharon's own party, which backed a resolution to never allow the creation of a Palestinian state.

Sharon later participated in talks with regional and world powers to discuss a "road map" for Middle East peace.

A significant moment for Sharon was his decision to turn over Gaza and portions of the West Bank to Palestinian control.

While he had previously encouraged Israelis to establish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Sharon pushed for Israel's historic withdrawal, or disengagement, from 25 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

The reaction in his own right-wing Likud Party to his order to the military to drag Israeli settlers from their homes in Gaza led Sharon in November 2005 to form the centrist political party Kadima, Hebrew for "Forward."

In grappling with the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Sharon said a few years before, "I can talk and look in the eyes of the citizens of Israel and convince them to make painful compromises."

Immediately after Sharon fell ill in early 2006, his power was transferred to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert. Surgeons removed 20 inches of Sharon's intestine the following month and, that April, Israel's Cabinet formally ended his run as prime minister after declaring him permanently incapacitated.

The former prime minister's health has fluctuated since then. In January 2013, doctors said testing on Sharon indicated some brain activity when he was shown photos of his home and heard his son's voice.

Sharon brain results not proof he'll wake up

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