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In Israel, Ariel Sharon's Family Gathers At His Bedside

Doctors in Israel say that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "already critical medical condition is deteriorating further as key bodily organs continue to decline," The Associated Press writes.

Dr. Zeev Rotstein, director of Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv, told reporters that members of the 85-year-old Sharon's family are by his bedside, the AP adds.

The news follows word earlier this week that Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in 2006, was suffering additional problems.

Friday's headline from Israel's Haaretz newspaper makes clear what the media there are expecting:

"Ariel Sharon's days are numbered, hospital director says."

Haaretz writes that "responding to a forthright question of one reporter asking whether Sharon would die, Rotstein said that in his opinion Sharon's days were numbered, but that the doctors treating him 'remain hopeful.' "

Looking back on Sharon's life, correspondent Mike Shuster reminds us that:

"Sharon was born in 1928 in what was then Palestine under the British mandate. His parents, Shmuel and Devorah Scheinerman, had been Jewish immigrants from Russia after World War I.

"It was a hostile world the Scheinermans settled in, and Sharon learned about Jewish self-defense from an early age. He joined a Jewish paramilitary organization at age 14. He would go on to a lengthy military career spanning five Israeli wars, starting with its war for independence in 1948, in which he was seriously wounded. ...

"In 1973 he went into politics when it became clear that he would never be made chief of staff of the Israeli army. He was a founding member of the Likud, the right-wing party whose leader, Menachem Begin, was elected prime minister in 1977.

"Sharon was made a government minister, and it was then that he became associated with an issue that would stick to him for the rest of his life — the expansion of Jewish settlements in territories seized during the 1967 Six-Day War. ...

"Sharon became defense minister in 1981. ... In 1982, he led the invasion of Lebanon. ... Soon Israeli forces pressed all the way to Beirut, and set siege to the Lebanese capital. ... The Lebanon war ended with one of the bloodiest incidents in the contemporary history of the Middle East. Lebanese Christian forces, allies of Israel, attacked the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut and massacred hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children, while Israeli officers looked on.

"Sharon proclaimed his innocence, but a commission of inquiry in Israel later found him indirectly responsible and prohibited him from ever again holding the post of defense minister.

"In a 1983 interview with NPR, Sharon expressed regret about the massacre.

" 'In retrospect, it was a mistake,' he said. 'Then, we did not know anything. We even did not think that that could have happened.' ...

"After these events, Sharon found himself in the political wilderness. He did not play a prominent role again in politics until the late 1990s, when he returned to government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"In 2000, he decided to challenge Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud. ...

"It was then that he made a fateful visit to the Temple Mount, or what the Arabs call the Noble Sanctuary, the site in the Old City of Jerusalem of both Jewish and Muslim holy places. ...

"The next day, rioting broke out in Jerusalem. It would mark the start of the second Palestinian intifada. The conflict soon mushroomed into outright warfare between Palestinians and Israelis. It would carry Sharon to election victory in early 2001. ...

"Sharon initially pursued a hard-line military solution to the Palestinian uprising, eventually ordering the Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian-controlled territories in the West Bank in the spring of 2002. ...

"But Sharon began to see that he needed more than just military force to solve the problem of Palestinian aspirations and violence. ...

"So he decided to move unilaterally, and in August 2005, he ordered the withdrawal of all Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza.

"He also began construction of a barrier in and around the West Bank, which is still under construction.

"In January 2006, Sharon suffered a stroke in the midst of an election campaign in which he abandoned the Likud to create a new political party, Kadima. ...

"In the last days before his stroke, Sharon created the impression that he was searching for a way to make peace with the Palestinians, but only on his terms."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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