TEL AVIV, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died on Saturday at the age of 85, the director of the Rehabilitation Hospital at the Sheba Medical center confirmed at a press conference in the hospital.
"The Sheba Medical Center sadly announces the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Prof. Shlomo Noy told reporters.
"Throughout the years he has been in a coma, his condition was defined as minimal consciousness, which referred to some minimal, nonverbal, abilities of communication," Shlomo Noy said.
"Sharon had overcome many medical complications due to his condition. In the past week he had fought for his life. Today, his heart gave up, while his family members surrounded him," he added.
A few minutes before the official announcement, Sharon's son Gilad announced his father's death in the hospital, saying "he left when he decided to leave."
As news broke out, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his regret over the passing of Sharon.
"The state of Israel bows its head in sorrow for the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Netanyahu said, according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office.
"Ariel Sharon had been a central part in the struggle over the security of Israel throughout its years. He was a brave soldier and an outstanding military leader who served Israel in the battlefield from his early youth," Netanyahu said.
"After he took off his uniform, he served Israel in various roles in the governments of Israel, and of course as the 11th Israeli Prime Minister. His memory would be treasured forever in the heart of the nation," the prime minister said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was Sharon's biggest opponent and then his ally, also eulogized Sharon.
"Sharon, my good friend, was a brave soldier and a daring statesman who contributed a lot to the safety and fortification of Israel," Peres said in a statement.
However, Palestinian Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip, said Saturday that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "a distinguished war criminal."
"The Palestinian people remember Sharon as someone who caused destruction, ordeals and displacement to them," Salah al-Bardaweel, a Hamas official told Xinhua.
Sharon has been in a coma for the past eight years since he suffered a stroke in January 2006. He was then replaced by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from his center-left Kadima party, which Sharon established after leaving the right-wing Likud party.