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Five years comatose, Israel's Sharon moves home

Israel's comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was moved back to his desert ranch yesterday, leaving the secure hospital ward that had been his home for almost five years.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2010 12:56 IST

Israel's comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was moved back to his desert ranch on Friday, leaving the secure hospital ward that had been his home for almost five years, officials said.

Sharon, 82, will continue to receive treatment at Sycamore Farm, where as premier he would often retreat with aides to plan strategies such as Israel's 2002 offensive in the Palestinian West Bank and the surprise 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Felled by a massive stroke in January 2006, ex-general Sharon left an often jittery Jewish state that has fought two wars while charting an uncertain course in US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians.

"Today, in 2010, the aspiration of any patient, our aspiration in the hospital, is to ensure that any chronic patient, when possible, is with his community, at home," said Prof Shlomo Noy, director of rehabilitation at the Sheba Medical Centre outside Tel Aviv, where Sharon had been receiving care.

Asked whether there any chance of Sharon recovering, or even returning to public life as some of his loyalists envisage, Novy told Israel's Army Radio, "Clearly what's behind this (move home) is the hope that his situation will get better. But the improvements that we talk about in such situations are not great improvements, not dramatic improvements."

After being stabilised for brain hemorrhage, Sharon settled into what medical staff and the few friends allowed to visit describe as a limbo state -- uncommunicative but apparently responding to basic stimuli like television.

He is said to have kept much of the fat that made him a favourite of satires and gave girth to his nickname "bulldozer".

"There is a feeling of communication, of realisation - I mean, the eyes are open and there is kind of, like, you feel that he feels your presence," his doctor, Shlomo Segev, told the Daily Beast last year.

"So it's not completely what we call a coma. Not a deep coma, for sure. But if you asked me to quantify that, I cannot."

As Israeli defence minister in 1982, Sharon masterminded the Lebanon invasion and was forced to step down over the massacre there of Palestinian refugees by allied Christian militiamen.

But while many Arabs reviled him for his war record, Sharon won respect as prime minister for ploughing through Israel's fractious coalition politics to form the new, centrist Kadima party and pull out of Gaza.

Whether Sharon, who at one point boxed in former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with tanks, would have secured a peace accord remains debated, not least as Hamas Islamists opposed to coexistence with Israel were quick to fill the Gaza vacuum.

The corruption- and infighting-riddled Likud party that Sharon abandoned has rebounded, its rightist Benjamin Netanyahu serving as premier astride a mostly stable coalition today.

Installing Sharon in Sycamore Farm would take around 48 hours and may require he be brought back to the hospital for check-ups on his adjustments, Noy said.

First Published: Nov 13, 2010 12:54 IST