JERUSALEM (AP) -- Ariel Sharon, the hard-charging Israeli general and prime minister who was admired and hated for his battlefield exploits and ambitions to reshape the Middle East, died Saturday, eight years after a stroke left him in a coma from which he never awoke. He was 85.
As one of Israel's most famous soldiers, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as "the bulldozer," a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.
He led his country into a divisive war in Lebanon in 1982 and was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman.
Sharon's son Gilad announced the death on Saturday afternoon. Sharon's health had taken a downturn over the past week and a half as a number of bodily organs, including his kidneys, stopped functioning.
"He has gone. He went when he decided to go," Gilad Sharon said outside the hospital where his father had been treated in recent years.
The life and career of the man widely known by his nickname "Arik" will be remembered for its three distinct stages: his eventful and controversial time in uniform, his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel's settlement movement and mastermind of the Lebanon invasion, then his successful term as a pragmatist prime minister, capped by a dramatic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and curtailed at the height of his popularity by his sudden stroke.
The Gaza pullout culminated a gradual abandonment of the hard-line policies for which he was known. In the tumultuous summer of 2005, he pulled all of Israel's settlers and soldiers out of the seaside strip, having played a key role in putting them there in the first place. "The fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv," Sharon had famously said, referring to a Gaza settlement, just three years earlier.
Characteristically, the move was unilateral; Sharon was dubious that much good could come of talks with the Palestinians.