Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon Photo by AP
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Former prime minister Ariel Sharon died on Saturday at Sheba Medical Center, his son Gilad Sharon said at a press conference outside the hospital. “He passed when he decided it was time to go,” said Gilad Sharon said about his father, adding, “We are grateful to all the many people in Israel and around the world who worried and prayed for him.”

Sharon's death was officially announced by hospital director Prof. Shlomo Noy at 3 P.M. after what he described as a peaceful passing, following a stubborn week-long struggle for life. The official time of Sharon's death was declared at 2 P.M, Noy said. The former prime minister died surrounded by his family, he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep sorrow after he heard the news. "The State of Israel lowers its head following the departure of Ariel Sharon,” he said. “He played a major part in the struggle for the country's security throughout all of its years. He was first and foremost a brave warrior and a great general, one of the greatest commanders the IDF has seen.

“As a youth he reported for duty on the battlefield on behalf of the people of Israel. He did so as a soldier in the War of Independence, and as a commander in the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War and up to the Yom Kippur War. In between, he founded Unit 101 and promoted the concept of taking the initiative and payback in the war against terror that became part and parcel of Israeli policy. When he stepped out of uniform he continued to serve the people of Israel in the many posts he served in Israeli governments and, of course, as Israel's 11th prime minister. His memory will be kept forever in the nation's heart."

Former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak remembered Sharon as a kind, charming man and colleague:

"Sharon was an extremely diverse man, more than the public realized," Barak said. "Behind closed doors, he was very warm, humane and charismatic. Sharon loved to read books, loved music and had a wonderful sense of humor and great sarcasm -- even about himself --that helped him take a sober view of difficult situations."

Barak also reminisced about their crossing paths in the army and in politics.

"Sharon is the one who appointed me major-general," Barak said, adding, "I came to politics 20 years after Sharon, and he would always joke with me, saying that, 'in politics, people talk as they do on the battlefield, but no one gets buried in the end.' He was hinting to me not to take political battles too seriously."

Barak said that in the last two years of Sharon's active life, "we didn’t meet or talk, but I have no doubt that Sharon executed the Gaza disengagement under real torment…. He felt that he had no choice, and that reality closing in on Israel, with all the pain involved, would do greater harm than the inability to make a decision."

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was Sharon's political partner for many years, eulogized him as well. “They say that old soldiers never really die, they fade away,” she said. "Arik faded away eight years ago, and now has finally left us. Even when he was prime minister he was a brave warrior, commander, leader and farmer whose feet were deeply planted in the soil of the land of Israel," Livni said, adding, "In that large body of his beat a Jewish soul that cared for the Jewish people around the world. He became the large father of a large nation. A father that gave his son a sense of security. And more than anything, Arik was a man that I loved. We were separated for eight years, and we never really got to part ways. Now we part.”

“Ariel Sharon's life path is intertwined with the history of the State of Israel and his presence at key intersections in its existence are recorded in its history,” said Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. “A man of the soil and a son of this land who dedicated his life to it with great abandon more than once. Although some fundamental difference in opinion broke out between us along the way, I always valued his experience and leadership.”

According to Noy, Sharon retained a minimal level of consciousness for a long period up to his death, responding to stimuli. “I believe that he was at least partially conscious of his condition,” said Noy. He added that the former prime minister's hanging onto life for nine days since he was determined to be in critical condition was a bit more than would be expected for a man of his age and condition and displayed his tough resolve.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who replaced Sharon as prime minister after the latter's second stroke left him incapacitated, said of him, “Ariel Sharon will be remembered as a great leader. He stood at the front of the firing line where Israel's fate was determined all his life. Arik's life was fascinating, exceptional, unique, soaked with bravery, human warmth, vision, and leadership at the critical moments when Israel needed these traits. In the eight years since his collapse, there was something missing for Israel and for me personally and his absence will continue to be felt into the future.”

“Ariel Sharon will be remembered as a great leader,”said Knesset opposition leader and Labor MK Isaac Herzog. “For many years we were in opposing camps, but it's impossible not to appreciate a man who could change his worldview and recognize the correct path for the State of Israel. In the previous decade, I was a housing minister in his government. I saw a self-confident, level-headed and unflappable prime minister who wasn't afraid to make decisions even those against the current. My sincere condolences to Omri and Gilad, their endless devotion to their father should be commended,” Herzog said.

“Ariel Sharon was one of the State of Israel's prominent leaders,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “A brave soldier and commander on the field of battle and a fearless leader on the field of politics, as well as a personal friend.”