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Ariel Sharon was an Israeli military leader and politician who was elected prime minister of the country in 2001, serving until 2006.
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Born on February 27, 1928, in Kfar Malal, Palestine (now Israel), Ariel Sharon was a key player in Israeli military operations for decades, inspiring debate over the ethics of his tactics. Founder of the Likud Party, Sharon served in Parliament and became minister of defense in 1981, later taking on other posts. He was elected prime minister in 2001 and served until 2006, upon suffering a stroke. After eight years in a coma, Sharon died on January 11, 2014 at the age of 85.
One of Israel's most controversial and charismatic leaders, Ariel Sharon was born in a Jewish settlement within British-controlled Palestine in 1928. His parents had immigrated there from Russia, and he became involved in the Zionist movement at an early age. At age 14, Sharon signed up for the Hagana, a local militia charged with guarding Jewish settlements.
Sharon attended high school in Tel Aviv. In 1948, he distinguished himself during Israel's War of Independence. Sharon led an infantry company and was wounded in the famed battle for Latrun, a fortress on the road to Jerusalem. After the war, he studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1953, Sharon created and ran an elite military group known as Unit 101. This special branch of the Israel Defense Forces was charged with launching retaliatory strikes against Palestinian terrorists. But it was soon dissolved after the unit staged an attack that resulted in the death of innocent women and children.
During the Arab-Israeli War of 1956, a conflict over the Suez Canal, Sharon commanded a brigade of paratroopers in Sinai. He reportedly got into trouble with his superiors for disregarding orders. The ambitious military leader engaged the Egyptians in battle at the Mitla Pass, resulting in causalities on both sides. Sharon returned to furthering his education after this conflict, eventually earning a law degree.
Over the years, Sharon rose within the ranks, becoming a major general by the time of the Six-Day War, in 1967. As the chief of southern command, he handled the Suez Canal area during the War of Attrition in 1969. Sharon also led the operation to squash the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Gaza Strip in 1971.
Sharon retired from military service in 1973, and began to work on his political aspirations by helping to found the right-wing Likud Party. Shortly after his retirement, however, he returned to the IDF to defend his country during the Yom Kippur War. On this Jewish holiday, Egyptian and Syrian troops attacked Israel from two sides. Sharon oversaw an armored division during this conflict.
As the 1970s progressed, Sharon transformed from a famous military leader to a conservative pro-settlement politician. He started up a program to create Jewish settlements in such contested areas as the Gaza Strip during the administration of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. During this time, Sharon oversaw the development of more than 200 settlements.
In 1981, Begin appointed Sharon to minister of defense.
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