File Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pauses during a news conference in his Jerusalem office, Sunday May 16, 2004 (Photo: AP)
Israeli former prime minister Ariel Sharon's health was in "slow, gradual" decline on Friday, according to the hospital where he has been in a comatose state for eight years.
It was the third straight day of reports that Sharon may be nearing death, with the 85-year-old's health worsening Wednesday as he suffered serious kidney problems after undergoing surgery.
Sharon's health was deteriorating as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region to push Middle East peace talks forward, on a four-day visit expected to involve intense shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
"Tests show a slow, gradual deterioration in the functioning of his vital organs... His state has not changed. He's still in critical condition, and his life is in danger," Tel Hashomer hospital director Zeev Rotstein was quoted by public radio as saying.
"I don't think the situation will improve with time, and we know what usually happens in cases like this," he added, suggesting that Sharon might die soon.
Rotstein said there were traces of infection in Sharon's blood, and that it had not been possible for him to undergo renal dialysis since his other organs were in such a fragile state.
News website Ynet quoted medical sources Wednesday as saying Sharon was taken into intensive care a month ago. His health then stabilised but suffered a "significant deterioration" over the past few days.
The long-time leader of the rightwing nationalist camp in Israeli politics suffered a massive stroke on January 4, 2006, slipping into a coma from which he has never recovered.
Israeli and US specialists said a year ago that Sharon had showed "significant brain activity" in an MRI scan, responding to pictures of his family seven years after the stroke.
Kerry on Thursday said the thoughts of the American people were with Israel and Sharon.
"We remember his contributions, the sacrifices he made to ensure the survival and the well-being of Israel," he said.
Sharon was first elected premier in February 2001, just months after walking through east Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, in an action that sparked the second Palestinian uprising.
In an extraordinary and controversial career stretching back more than half a century, the 85-year-old made it his mission to safeguard national security.
While his administration was initially seen as the most hawkish in Israeli history, less than four years after his 2001 election, it withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, Palestinian territory occupied in the 1967 war.
Shortly after his 2006 stroke, Islamist movement Hamas, which now governs Gaza, said the Middle East would be better off without him.
Dubbed "the Bulldozer" both for his style and physique, Sharon is also remembered by Arabs as the "Butcher of Beirut" for the massacres of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila by a Lebanese militia, while Israeli troops stood by.
This article has been edited by Ahram Online