Known for his girth and booming voice, Sharon, 77, is a determined and controversial figure. Here are details of his life:
As a career army commander, Sharon had a legendary record on the battlefield.
- Long the darling of the far right, Sharon angered Arabs
and Israeli doves by championing Jewish settlement on land taken in the 1967 Middle East war.
- The Arab world reviles Sharon for masterminding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Israel's Lebanese Christian allies massacred Palestinians in two refugee camps. Sharon was forced to resign as defence minister after an Israeli inquiry found him indirectly responsible for failing to prevent the killings.
- Sharon's provocative visit to Islam's third holiest site, al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), while opposition leader, is said to have sparked the second intifada (uprising) in September 2000.
- He shocked Jewish ultranationalists in 2003 by announcing he would "disengage" Israel from fighting with the Palestinians by removing all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank.
- As leader of Likud, Sharon was elected prime minister twice, in 2001 and 2003, vowing to restore security and stamp out Palestinian violence.
- Sharon's decision to quit Likud and found a new party was a typically bold bid to reshape the Israeli political landscape. The move is designed to bypass far-right criticism and press ahead with plans to end conflict with the Palestinians, including the recent pull-out from Gaza.