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Hollande hails Sharon as great actor in Israel's history

media Ariel Sharon Reuters/David Furst/Files

French President François Hollande hailed Ariel Sharon as a "major actor in the history of his country" who "chose dialogue" with the Palestinians after the announcement of the death of the former Israeli prime minister on Saturday afternoon.

Sharon died on Saturday after being a coma for eight years.

"Ariel Sharon ... was a major actor in the history of his country," a statement from Hollande said. "After a long political and military career, he chose to turn to turn to dialogue with the Palestinians."

Dossier: Gaza 2009

The Palestinians themselves were less generous in their judgement.

"Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the murder of [Yasser] Arafat, and we had hoped that he would appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal," said Jibril Rajoub, a leader of Arafat's Fatah movement, while Hamas, the Islamic movement that controls Gaza, called him an "example to all tyrants".

Scientists in several countries are still trying to establish whether the Palestinians' historic leader died of natural causes or was murdered by polonium poisoning.

As defence minister Sharon masterminded the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was forced to resign after an Israeli inquiry found found him guilty of doing nothing to prevent the Sabra and Chatila massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia allied to the Israelis.

But he was elected prime minister in 2001 and reelected in 2003.

In 2005 he ordered the evacuation of Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza, a move that angered both the Israeli right and the Palestinians, who accused him of placing the area under effective siege and increasing settlements in the West Bank.

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