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Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon dies at 85

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died. He was 85.

Sharon had been in a coma since a stroke in 2006.

Earlier this month, hospital officials said his health was deteriorating and several of his organs were malfunctioning.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement offering condolences to Sharon’s friends and family, as well as the people of Israel.

“A renowned military leader, Mr. Sharon pursued the security of Israel with unyielding determination that was recognized by friends and foes alike. He also played a central role in the Israeli government for several years, changing the political landscape through his leadership and vision,” read the statement.

Harper called Sharon one of the “architects of modern day Israel and one of the nation’s staunchest defenders.”

“Canada values its long-standing relationship with Israel, which is based on shared values, common interests and strong political, economic, cultural and social ties.”

In the years before his stroke, Sharon gradually abandoned his hard-line policies toward the Palestinians. He withdrew Israel’s settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005.

Paul Martin was Canada’s prime minister at the time.

Martin recalled having a discussion with Sharon at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and said Sharon “was certainly not what I had expected given his previous military history.”

“We all know of his record as a soldier, and he was a tough soldier,” Martin said in an interview Saturday.

“As prime minister, he took what I believe to be a much more open view and it was clear that his priority was how could he achieve not simply temporary peace, but lasting peace.”

Former prime minister Jean Chretien said he only met Sharon once, but remembered him as a man of “strong convictions.”

Like Martin, Chretien said Sharon appeared committed to achieving peace before his stroke.

“Sometimes when you face reality… you have to change your views, and he did,” Chretien said in an interview.

“It’s a sign of humility and common sense.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar issued a statement of condolence on behalf of the New Democrats.

“We join those marking the passage of Mr. Sharon, a significant figure in world history and an influential leader who dedicated his life to serving his country,” Dewar said.

Having fought in all of Israel’s wars since the state’s founding in 1948, Sharon was been admired by many Israelis as a great military leader, but was reviled by Palestinians and the Lebanese.

In 1982, when Sharon was defence minister, he orchestrated Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to drive out Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

With files from CNN and The Canadian Press