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Former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in critical condition

JERUSALEM -- Israel's former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was fighting for his life on Thursday, was an arch-hawk turned statesman who pioneered plans to redraw the nation's borders and revolutionised its political landscape.

Sharon's health has deteriorated, with his “vital organs” failing, the hospital where he has been housed since falling into a coma on January 4, 2006, said on Thursday.

The 85-year-old politician's extraordinary and controversial career stretches back more than half a century, when he made it his mission to safeguard national security.

He became convinced Israel needed to separate from the Palestinians and unilaterally determine its own borders.

After withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in September 2005 following a 38-year occupation, Sharon abandoned his right-wing Likud party to form a centrist grouping to fulfil what he saw as a historic calling.

But after he fell into a coma, the Islamist movement Hamas took control of Gaza, having routed forces loyal to moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007, effectively setting up an Islamist territory on Israel's border.

Sharon was also known for Israel's controversial 1982 invasion of Lebanon that left around 20,000 people dead.

In 2006, a U.N.-brokered ceasefire took effect in Lebanon after a 34-day war between Israel and the Shiite group Hezbollah, created as a result of the 1982 invasion Sharon directed as defense minister.

Born in British-mandate Palestine on Feb. 27, 1928, to parents from Belarus, Sharon summed himself up in the title of his autobiography: “Warrior.”

He was first elected premier in February 2001, just months after walking across the disputed Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem in an action that sparked the second Palestinian uprising.

While his administration was initially seen as the most hawkish in Israeli history, less than four years later it withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, Palestinian territory occupied in the 1967 war.

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 Car bomb kills 5, wounds 20 in Hezbollah's Beirut bastion 
In this May 16, 2004 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pauses during a news conference in his Jerusalem office regarding education reform. (AP)

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