Condition of ex-Israel PM Sharon worsens: Hospital

JERUSALEM (AFP) - The health of former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon has worsened over the past hours, hospital officials said on Thursday, describing him as being in "extremely critical" condition.

"Over the past hours, there has been a worsening of the condition of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. His condition is described as extremely critical and his family is at his side all the time," said a statement from Sheba hospital near Tel Aviv where he is being treated.

Mr Sharon has been in a coma since Jan 4, 2006 after suffering a massive stroke, but his condition took a sudden turn for the worse on Jan 1 when he suffered serious kidney problems after surgery.

Hospital sources quoted by army radio said the former premier only had "a few days or even hours" left.

On Sunday hospital director Zeev Rotstein said Mr Sharon was facing "imminent" death.

Mr Sharon was first elected premier in February 2001, just months after walking through east Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, in an action that sparked the second Palestinian uprising.

Following an extraordinary and controversial career stretching back more than half a century, he became convinced Israel needed to separate from the Palestinians and unilaterally determine its own borders.

The long-time leader of the rightwing nationalist camp in Israeli politics, Mr Sharon fell ill at the height of his political career, just months after masterminding the Jewish state's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, ending 38 years of occupation.