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Mr. Sharon’s right-wing base made him useful to a string of subsequent governments, but he was repeatedly frustrated in attempts to take control of the Likud Party. Many in Israel wrote him off politically.

But he used his post as housing minister and then national infrastructure minister to boost settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza, and built up such a following that Mr. Netanyahu made him foreign minister in 1998. Mr. Sharon took over Likud when Mr. Netanyahu lost to Labor Party candidate Ehud Barak in the 1999 general election.

As opposition leader, Mr. Sharon loudly protested Mr. Barak’s feelers to the Palestinians, playing on growing Israeli skepticism of the peace process after the collapse of President Clinton’s Camp David summit in the summer of 2000.

Reversals of policy, fortune

Detractors say Mr. Sharon helped ensure the failure of any peace accord and the fall of the Barak government with a provocative visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in September 2000, a site also sacred to Muslims as the home of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Violence between the Palestinians and Israelis reignited in the wake of the visit.

With the Israeli peace camp discredited, the 72-year-old Mr. Sharon reached the pinnacle of power with Likud’s landslide win in February 2001. But in the final act of a remarkable career, Mr. Sharon proved once again capable of confounding critics and supporters alike.

He adopted a policy of tough retaliation against terrorist strikes and aligned closely with the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But Mr. Sharon also endorsed a U.S.-backed “road map” for peace with the Palestinians, extended a security barrier designed to cut terrorist threats, and used the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to try to change the dynamic of the peace process.

In his most startling reversal, the longtime champion of Jewish settlers announced a unilateral disengagement plan that called for the abandonment of 25 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and an end to what he called Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian lands.

Mr. Sharon carried through with the withdrawal despite bitter protests from Likud’s hard-line factions. Faced with a rebellion in his longtime political base, Mr. Sharon in November 2005 quit the Likud Party to form the centrist Kadima (“Forward”) Party.

Kadima and Mr. Sharon enjoyed a strong lead in the polls when Mr. Sharon suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke Jan. 4, 2006. His ally Ehud Olmert led Kadima to victory in the March general election.

Widely reviled in the Arab world for much of his professional career, Mr. Sharon seemed to win a grudging respect from many old adversaries in his final years. To the end, no one ever doubted he would do whatever he thought necessary to ensure the survival of the country he helped found and preserve.

“Jews have this one, tiny country,” he said once in a speech to American Jewish leaders.

“It is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and privilege to defend themselves. Israel will not be able to make any compromises when it comes to our security.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.