Dr Zeev Rotstein, director of Tel Hashomer Hospital, said Mr Sharon’s condition had deteriorated over the past two days and a number of vital organs, including his kidneys, were suffering from “critical malfunction”. His family was at his bedside, he added.
He said: “He is in critical condition and his life is definitely in danger. The feeling of the doctors treating him and also that of the family with him, is that there is a turn for the worse.”
Israeli TV stations were broadcasting live from the hospital, while retrospectives on his life were aired, along with interviews with old friends and political allies. Old interviews were shown, highlighting the charming, grandfatherly image he cultivated later in life. Mr Sharon’s medical condition also dominated the front pages of newspapers and radio shows all day.
The 85-year-old, one of Israel’s most controversial figures, has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January 2006. At the time, he was prime minister and at the height of his political power. His condition has largely been out of the spotlight since, as his two sons have cared for him while restricting most access to outsiders.
Mr Sharon’s career has stretched across Israel’s 65-year history.
As one of Israel’s most famous generals, Mr Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as “the bulldozer” – a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.
Mr Sharon is credited with helping turn the tide of the 1973 Middle East War. He led an Israeli force across the Suez Canal, trapping part of the Egyptian army and turning the war in Israel’s favour.
He engineered Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and lost his job as defence minister after an Israeli-allied Christian militia killed hundreds of Palestinians at refugee camps in west Beirut, sparking international outrage.
A prominent hard-line voice over the decades, he was elected prime minister in 2001.
He later left his hard-line Likud Party and established the centrist Kadima Party. It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he suffered the stroke.
Although Mr Sharon never regained full consciousness, his family has said he occasionally blinks and moves his fingers.