Ariel Sharon's health is deteriorating, say doctors

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The condition of Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who masterminded the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has deteriorated, doctors said yesterday. The further worsening of his health, six months after he fell into a coma, comes as Israel is once again fighting in Lebanon. As defence minister, Mr Sharon sent the Israeli army as far as Beirut to root out Palestinian guerrillas.

Doctors at the Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv said the 78-year-old, who fell into a coma after a stroke on 4 January, was suffering from an accumulation of fluids and problems with his kidneys.

However, a family friend said that Mr Sharon's condition was not irreversible and that doctors had pointedly not said that his life was threatened.

After his stroke, Sharon underwent several brain operations but never regained consciousness. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over as interim leader when Mr Sharon fell ill, and formally assumed office after the Kadima party that Mr Sharon founded won the most seats in elections this year and established a governing coalition.

Olmert authorised air raids on Beirut and other parts of Lebanon following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah guerrillas on 12 July. The 12-day war has cost almost 400 lives in Lebanon and Hizbollah rockets have killed 37 Israelis.

Mr Sharon drew Arab enmity for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Christian militia allies massacred Palestinians in refugee camps. The occupation ended in 2000.

He championed the building of Jewish communities on occupied Palestinian land and drew further Arab ire for crushing a Palestinian uprising that erupted after he visited a Jerusalem shrine in 2000.

First elected prime minister in 2001, Sharon made an about-face in his second term, pulling Israelis out of the occupied Gaza Strip last year and hinting at a similar move to consolidate settlements in the West Bank.

The move, the first time Israel had withdrawn from land that Palestinians want for a state, stirred a revolt in his Likud party, leading to the formation of Kadima.