UK

David Cameron's Tribute To Ariel Sharon, As Obama, Ban Ki-Moon Release Statements

11/01/2014 14:48 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT

David Cameron has paid tribute to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who has died nearly eight years after suffering a devastating stroke.

Cameron praised the 85-year-old, who had been in a coma since April 2006, as an "important leader" for the country and said he had taken "brave and controversial" decisions.

"Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated," Cameron said.

"Israel has today lost an important leader."

In Israel, President Shimon Peres said: "My dear friend, Arik Sharon, lost his final battle today.

"Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel's great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a long-time political rival, expressed his "deep sorrow" over the passing, calling him "a great warrior and military leader."

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement: "The nation of Israel has today lost a dear man, a great leader and a bold warrior."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip."

French President Francois Hollande praised Sharon for decided “to turn to dialogue with the Palestinians”.

President Barack Obama's said he sent his "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".

"We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples," he continued. "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."

The veteran soldier, nicknamed the 'bulldozer', fought in the series of wars that forged the state of Israel before entering politics in 1973.

Critics held him responsible for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut refugee camps.

However, others pointed to his efforts to secure a stable peace as prime minister between 2001 and 2006, including unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Sharon was still in office when he suffered his stroke, and never regained consciousness.

Complications after surgery at the beginning of this month had seen a sharp deterioration in his condition.