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Former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's condition worsens, hospital says

By Mike Schwartz and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 7:04 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opens a cabinet meeting October 9, 2005, three months before he suffered a stroke.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opens a cabinet meeting October 9, 2005, three months before he suffered a stroke.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The ex-prime minister's condition worsened "in the last few days," a hospital official says
  • Reports: Sharon's life in danger due to kidney problems, sources say
  • Sharon, a decorated war vet before being elected, has been in a coma since 2006
  • Affiliate: His family was set to visit Saturday on the 8th anniversary of hospitalization

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The health of Ariel Sharon -- a highly decorated if controversial Israeli military figure whose time as prime minister was ground to a halt by an incapacitating stroke -- has taken a turn for the worse, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The 85-year-old's life is in danger as he battles serious kidney problems, Israeli media -- including state radio -- reported, citing "sources."

Sharon's medical condition has worsened "in the last few days," according to Sheba Medical Center spokeswoman Amir Maron.

Sharon has been in a coma since January 2006, when he suffered a major stroke that led doctors to put him under anesthesia and on a respirator. His family planned to meet at the Israeli hospital Saturday to mark the eighth anniversary of his hospitalization, reported Israel's Channel 10 TV, a CNN affiliate.

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

After a year of studies at Hebrew University, he began his rise through the Israeli military ranks in 1953, including helping establish an elite commando unit and various promotions up to the army's major general. He held this rank during 1967's Six-Day War, which ended with Israel notably, if 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 segueing into government, including stints as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's military adviser, agriculture minister and defense minister from August 1981 to February 1983.

His actions in this last post led many in the Arab world to label him the "Butcher of Beirut." Sharon orchestrated Israel's invasion of Lebanon, an effort aimed at Palestine Liberation Organization fighters that also left hundreds of Lebanese civilians dead.

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 the then-defense minister did 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, with his adviser Ranaan Gissin saying "he felt betrayed by his government." He sued Time for a magazine article implying that he had foreknowledge and a greater role in this massacre, with a jury later finding the U.S.-based publisher guilty of defamation but not of malice.

Sharon went on to hold a several other Cabinet posts from 1984 to 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 PLO leader Yasser Arafat on a timeline to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence and resume peace talks -- only to have this effort undermined by his 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.

Immediately after he fell ill in early 2006, his power was transferred to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert. Surgeons removed 20 inches of his 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 during the time he has been in the coma. 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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