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Again, his aggressiveness caused Mr. Sharon problems with his superiors, but a famous battlefield photo of Mr. Sharon, his head swathed in a bandage as he consulted a map at the Suez Canal, came to symbolize Israel’s victory over what seemed overwhelming odds.

Mr. Sharon’s public triumphs were tempered by personal tragedies. His first wife, Margalit, a Holocaust refugee from Romania whom he married in 1953, was killed in a car crash in May 1962. Just months after Mr. Sharon’s heroism in the Six-Day War, his 12-year-old son, Gur, was shot to death by a playmate when the two were handling one of the general’s antique guns.

Mr. Sharon married his first wife’s sister, Lily, who came to help the family after Margalit’s death. She died of lung cancer in 2000.

In addition to personal tragedy, Mr. Sharon was dogged throughout his career by charges of shady financial dealings. Nothing was ever proved in court against him, but his son Omri was fined and sentenced to nine months in jail this year for fundraising violations in his father’s campaign for Likud Party chairman in 1999. The younger Mr. Sharon resigned his Knesset seat, but his jail term was delayed because of his father’s illness.

Just as his military career was coming to an end, Mr. Sharon embarked on a long, tortuous political career that would take him from the fringes to the center of power and a transforming role in the Middle East and beyond.

As in his military career, Mr. Sharon moved steadily up the political ladder without full trust or support of the prime ministers in whose governments he served. His first political base was the Jewish settlers who moved onto land captured in the Six-Day War, and he consistently supported their right to maintain and expand their homesteads as a way to ensure Israel’s security.

His aggressiveness in promoting the settlers’ rights earned him his most enduring nickname, “Bulldozer.”

Political ascension

First elected to the Knesset in 1973, he resigned to serve as a special security adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin two years later. But he returned to the Israeli legislature in 1977 and allied with the new right-wing government of Likud Party Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He would hold Cabinet posts under a series of Israeli governments for much of the next two decades

His most significant portfolios were as defense minister under Mr. Begin from 1981 to 1983, and his appointment as minister of national infrastructure under Mr. Netanyahu in the late 1990s.

His tenure as defense minister nearly ended his career in disgrace, climaxing in the Sabra and Shatila massacre that led his enemies to dub him the “butcher of Beirut.”

The international group Human Rights Watch on Saturday expressed regret that Mr. Sharon never faced war crimes charges for the massacre.

“It’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of the group, said in a statement. “His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer.”

The massacre in the refugee camps was to cloud Mr. Sharon’s reputation for the rest of his life. A commission headed by Israel’s top jurist concluded in 1983 that “the defense minister made a grave mistake when he ignored the danger of acts of revenge by the [Christian militiamen] against the population in the refugee camps” and called for his dismissal.

Mr. Sharon resigned soon afterward, but maintained that Israel “bears no responsibility, either direct or indirect, for what happened there.”

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