The medical condition of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has deteriorated sharply, the hospital treating him said.
The 85-year-old has been in a coma since 2006 when a devastating stroke incapacitated him at the height of his political power. His family have said he sometimes opens his eyes and moves his fingers.
Amir Marom, a spokesman for the Tel Hashomer hospital, where Mr Sharon has been treated for most of the past eight years, said that the former leader's medical condition has “deteriorated in the past few days”. He refused to elaborate and Mr Sharon's son, Omri, refused to comment.
Israeli media reported that Mr Sharon was suffering from kidney problems and that his family was at the hospital. In September, Mr Sharon underwent surgery to insert a new feeding tube.
Mr Sharon was one of Israel's most controversial figures. As one of Israel's most famous generals, he 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. A prominent hard-line voice over the decades, he was elected prime minister in 2001.
In mid-2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending a 38-year military control of the territory. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements in captured territories.
He later quit his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. He appeared on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke in January 2006. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over and was elected prime minister a few months later.
Mr Sharon had a first, small stroke in December 2005 and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain haemorrhage on 4 January 2006. After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, he was transferred to the long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital. He was taken home briefly at one point but returned to the hospital, where he has been ever since.