- Associated Press - Friday, November 12, 2010

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s comatose former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was moved home to his ranch Friday, nearly five years after being incapacitated by a series of strokes while still in office.

Medical teams took the former leader, who has been in a coma since early 2006 and is attached to a respirator, from his room in the long-term care unit of a hospital outside Tel Aviv at dawn Friday. Security crews erected screens so he would not be visible when he was wheeled out of the building and into a waiting ambulance.

From the hospital, security guards in SUVs escorted the ambulance to Mr. Sharon’s family ranch in southern Israel.

There has been no change reported in Mr. Sharon’s condition, and the move is the result of modern medical thinking that prefers to see long-term patients treated “in the community” rather than in hospitals, said Dr. Shlomo Noi, an official from Tel Hashomer Hospital.

While Mr. Sharon, 82, showed “minimal responses,” there was no indication he would emerge from the coma, Dr. Noi told Israel Radio on Friday.

“Beyond that, we have only hope,” he said.

Mr. Sharon, a war hero and politician who was for decades one of Israel’s most controversial figures, found popularity as prime minister between 2001 and 2006. He led Israel’s successful military response to the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada, all but ending it by 2004. The next year, he reversed his years of hard-line, pro-settlement policies and pulled all of Israel’s soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

That same year he left the hawkish Likud party, which he helped found, and formed the centrist Kadima, a party designed to be centered largely on his own personality. But only months later, at the age of 77 and considerably overweight, Mr. Sharon suffered a series of strokes that left him comatose.

Mr. Sharon was kept in the long-term care unit at Tel Hashomer Hospital outside Tel Aviv until Friday. Ahead of his transfer, Dr. Zeev Rothstein, the hospital’s director, described Mr. Sharon’s condition as “mini-unconsciousness, meaning he is not unconscious but he is not fully conscious.”

“He needs assistance in all daily activities,” the doctor told Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Thursday.

The former prime minister, who has two sons, will be cared for at home by a medical staff. He is expected to be returned to hospital for regular checkups.

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