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Ariel Sharon dead at 85, world leaders respond

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the trailblazing warrior-statesman who spent half a century as a military and political leader transforming the region, died on Saturday at age 85.

Sharon died at Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, where he has been in a coma since being hit by a stroke at the pinnacle of his power as prime minister in January 2006. Doctors there had reported a precipitous decline in his condition last week.

Sharon would have turned 86 next month. His family gathered at the hospital to be with him in his final moments. His sons Omri and Gilad had been by his side since his condition deteriorated on January 1.

Gilad Sharon reacted to the death of his father on Saturday, saying that "he went when he decided to go."

President Barack Obama issued a statement on Saturday reacting to the death of Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel.

"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel," the president said. "We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country."

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sharon's former deputy who took office after the 2006 stroke.

"Arik was not a warmonger. When it was necessary to fight, he stood at the forefront of the divisions in the most sensitive and painful places, but he was a smart and realistic person and understood well that there is a limit in our ability to conduct wars."

Tawfik Tirawi, who served as Palestinian intelligence chief when Sharon was prime minister.

"He wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map. He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive."

Khalil al-Haya, a leader in the Islamic militant group Hamas.

"After eight years, he is going in the same direction as other tyrants and criminals whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became Prime Minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process. During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with him. But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions ... you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "deep sorrow" over Sharon's passing hailing him as a "brave fighter" who continued to act for Israel as a politician and prime minister.

President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and rival.

Sharon was "a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him."

Yossi Sarid, a former opposition leader and rival of Sharon.

"He was the most present and influential person in the country in the past two generations. Lots of people wanted to influence and leave their mark, but nobody, for better and for worse, but nobody left such a deep mark in our history in the past few decades."

Dov Weisglass, a longtime confidant of Sharon.

"When you look at Ariel Sharon's biography I think it is incomparable, a single person whose life story is so closely connected with the story of a country and with the story of a people."

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Sharon "realized the reality and went for a very brave move that recognizes the fact that there is no choice but to separate from the Palestinians."

A state funeral will be organized for Sharon by the Prime Minister's Office. Current and former world leaders are expected to come to Israel for the funeral. His body will lie in state at the Knesset before the funeral on his Negev ranch beside his wife Lily, who died in 2000.

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