The medical condition of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon has sharply deteriorated, according to the hospital treating him. The 85-year-old has been in a coma since 2006, when he suffered a massive stroke.
A spokesman for Tel Hashomer hospital said Sharon's condition had deteriorated in the past few days, while refusing to elaborate further.
Reports from Israeli media, including the broadcasters Channel 10 TV and Israel Radio, said that the former prime minister was in a "life threatening" condition after suffering kidney malfunction.
The website of the Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that Sharon could die in "a matter of days," should his condition continue to decline. The television station Channel 2 said that Sharon's sons were at his bedside.
The Reuters news agency said a spokeswoman for the Israeli Health Ministry had declined to comment on the former premier's state.
The news comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the Middle East on Thursday to outline his ideas of a long-term peace deal between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Sharon had been at the height of his political power in January 2006, when he suffered a devastating stroke. In November 2005 he left the right wing Likud party to set up the more centrist Kadima party, in frustration at hardliners who were opposed to his withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza that year.
Those actions were seen as something of an about-turn from the former general who became known as "the bulldozer" for his political resoluteness.
Sharon was first elected prime minister in February 2001, only months after walking through east Jerusalem's flashpoint Al Aqsa mosque compound - Islam's third most holy place. The action - to assert the rights of Israelis to visit the site which is also revered in Judaism as the Temple Mount - led to angry demonstrations by Palestinian Jerusalemites, and is said to have helped sparked the second Palestinian "intifada" or uprising.
Sharon supported the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and also initiated the building of the walled West Bank barrier.
Since his stroke, Sharon has been connected to a respirator in a comatose state, although his family claim he sometimes opens his eyes and moves his fingers. In January 2013, Israeli and US specialists said Sharon had showed "significant brain activity" in an MRI scan, responding to photos of his family.
rc/lw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)