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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 16:00 GMT
Ariel Sharon: Controversial hardliner
Ariel Sharon makes his fateful visit to Jerusalem
Ariel Sharon makes his fateful visit to Jerusalem
Ariel Sharon, whose visit to the holy sites in Jerusalem provided one of the sparks for the recent cycle of violence, is a fierce opponent of the Oslo-inspired Middle East peace process.

The Israeli hardliner was typically defiant about his role in the clashes.

"It must be clearly understood that it wasn't my visit to the Temple Mount - the holiest site for Jews and under full Israeli sovereignty - that ignited the current outbreak of violence," he told US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright .

Despite being reviled by Palestinians Mr Sharon was courted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to join an emergency government before Mr Barak called the early election.

Sharon in Jerusalem
Some say Sharon's Jerusalem visit may have been to deflect attention from Netanyahu
But in August this year, Mr Sharon rejected a suggestion by Mr Barak to join a coalition.

''Given [Barak's] numerous concessions, particularly on Jerusalem, and his failures on the domestic scene, there is no place for us in the Barak government,'' Mr Sharon said at the time.

However the Likud leader has shifted his position over time - appearing ready to enter a coalition if some stiff conditions were met, previously including a hand in determining the agenda on security issues and the power of veto over any diplomatic initiatives.

Lebanon massacre

The hawkish leader of Israel's opposition Likud Party, Ariel Sharon is for Palestinians mainly associated with the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut 18 years ago.

More recently, he attacked Mr Barak's efforts to reach a compromise with the Palestinians over control of Jerusalem and its holy sites.

Barak does not have the right to give up Jerusalem, which the people received as a legacy

Ariel Sharon
After the failed Camp David talks in July, Mr Sharon sought to stir a public groundswell against Mr Barak, depicting him as a usurper ready to trade Jerusalem for a peace agreement.

''Barak does not have the right to give up Jerusalem, which the people received as a legacy,'' Mr Sharon said at a parliamentary session.

Towards the end of last year, commentators said Mr Sharon could face an internal power struggle for leadership of the Likud Party with former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Corruption charges against Mr Netanyahu were dropped on 27 September, prompting speculation that the former prime minister could stage a comeback.

Blood-tainted past

First elected to parliament in 1977, Mr Sharon masterminded Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Political career
1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's special security adviser
1977-81 : Minister of Agriculture
1981-83: Minister of Defence
1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
1998-99: Foreign Minister
1999-today: Chairman of Likud
As defence minister he sent the Israeli army all the way to Beirut, a strike which ended in the expulsion of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Lebanon.

The move stopped the PLO using Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel, but also resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen in two Beirut refugee camps under Israeli control.

Mr Sharon was removed from office in 1983 by an Israeli tribunal investigating the 1982 Lebanon invasion, finding him indirectly responsible for the killings.

But he remained a popular figure among the Israeli right.

Comeback

As housing minister in the early 1990s, he presided over the biggest building drive in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel occupied the territories in the 1967 Six Day War.

After Mr Netanyahu's right-wing coalition came to power in 1996, the new Israeli PM bowed to pressure to include the former army general in his cabinet.

On appointing him as foreign minister in 1998, Mr Netanyahu said that Ariel Sharon was the best man for the job.

He said: "We shouldn't deal with bygones. He has a record throughout his public life and during the past 15 years that people should be proud of."

Mr Sharon went on to become leader of the right-wing Likud Party in opposition after Mr Netanyahu's decisive defeat in the 1999 general election.


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09 Oct 98 | Middle East
07 Oct 98 | Middle East
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