Ariel Sharon, the trailblazing former Israeli general and prime minister who was in a coma for eight years after he suffering a stroke at the height of his power, died on Saturday aged 85, his family and the government said.
Sharon's son Gilad announced the death at the hospital where his father had been treated. Doctors there had predicted his imminent death after his health declined sharply last week.
Ministers in Israel's right-wing government, and the political opposition, mourned a tough and wily leader who left big footprints on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a shock, unilateral decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
"The nation of Israel has today lost a dear man, a great leader and a bold warrior," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment on the death from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Sharon's Likud party successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been holding U.S.-sponsored peace talks.
But in Gaza, the Hamas Islamists whose political fortunes rose with the Israeli withdrawal savoured Sharon's demise.
"We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi, whose movement preaches the destruction of the Jewish state.
"Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."
The charismatic and controversial leader was incapacitated by a massive stroke in January 2006. His term as prime minister officially ended several months later as he remained in a comatose state.
In 2010 his family moved him to his ranch in the Negev desert, but he was readmitted to a hospital last September, when he underwent abdominal surgery. In recent days he went into a sharp decline as his organs deteriorated.
Sharon's rise to prominence began in the 1950s when he led Israeli commandos on ruthless raids. He fought in nearly all of his nation’s major wars, triumphing in one of the most dramatic battles of the 1967 Mideast war, but also leading the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that sparked widespread protests.
He spearheaded the Jewish resettlement of Palestinian territories but later oversaw Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.