San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica government offers condolences to Israel after death of Ariel Sharon

SAN JOSÉ — Costa Rica’s government expressed “deep condolences” this Saturday after the death of former prime minister and one-time strongman of the Israeli right Ariel Sharon.

“The government of Costa Rica expressed dismay and deep condolences to the people and government of the State of Israel,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry. “At the same time we express solidarity with the people and government of Israel.”

Sharon died in hospital near Tel Aviv Saturday after eight years in a coma, prompting a flood of tributes in Israel but contempt from Palestinians. He was 85.

Sharon had been comatose since January 4, 2006 after suffering a massive stroke. His condition took a sudden turn for the worse on New Year’s Day when he suffered serious kidney problems after surgery.

Army radio said Sharon’s body would lie in state at Jerusalem’s Knesset, or parliament, on Sunday. He will be buried on Monday afternoon at his ranch in the Negev desert in southern Israel after a memorial service.

The burly white-haired Sharon was one of Israel’s most skilled but controversial political and military leaders. Hailed by many Israelis as a statesman, his ruthless methods also earned him the moniker “The Bulldozer”.

As news of his death emerged, tributes poured in from Israel and abroad, but the Palestinians were quick to denounce him as a “criminal” who had escaped international justice.

Sharon fought in all of Israel’s major wars before embarking on a turbulent political career in 1973 that ended dramatically when he suffered the stroke in 2006.

Long considered a pariah for his personal but “indirect” responsibility for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, Sharon was elected premier in 2001.

The Palestinians were quick to welcome the news of his death, which prompted an outburst of celebration in the Gaza Strip, from which Sharon controversially ordered the withdrawal of troops and settlers in 2005.

One of the last members of the generation that founded the Jewish state in 1948, Sharon leaves a complex legacy that saw him push through a policy of separation from the Palestinians, beginning the sprawling West Bank barrier in 2002, and orchestrating the withdrawal from Gaza.

Born in British-mandate Palestine on February 26, 1928, to immigrants from Belarus, Sharon was just 17 when he joined the Haganah, the militia that fought in the 1948 war of independence and eventually became the Israeli army.

Ever the maverick, Sharon later broke with his life-long rightwing convictions to push through an unprecedentedly bold plan to withdraw Israeli troops and 8,000 settlers from Gaza, earning him the hatred of his former nationalist and settler allies.

“Ariel Sharon was first and foremost a rare military leader who shaped the Israeli army,” said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a bitter opponent of the withdrawal.

“Despite the differences of opinion along the way, I always valued his experience and leadership. The defense establishment.. bows its head today with his departure.”

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