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JERUSALEM — Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel who has been comatose for nearly eight years, edged closer to death late Wednesday because of kidney failure.

A spokesman for the hospital that has been treating Sharon, 85, said: “There has been a deterioration in his medical condition.”

A person who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sharon had a setback about a month ago, spent two weeks in intensive care after emergency surgery and seemed to have stabilized before the most recent turn.

“It looks pretty bad, but it’s not a matter of hours,” said another person with knowledge of his condition who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Sharon, a military commander who rose to hold many of his nation’s top positions, had a massive stroke after shaking up Israeli politics at the height of his power.

Despite intense medical intervention, he never regained consciousness.

Over the years, there has been no significant change in his condition, which showed brain activity and response to some stimuli though he was described as “minimally conscious” or in a “light coma.”

The former leader was being treated at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv, where a decline in his condition was noted in recent weeks.

An architect of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, Sharon stunned the world and his own constituents with a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

He abandoned the Likud Party he led as prime minister to form the centrist Kadima Party, and he was believed to be preparing for further territorial concessions to establish a Palestinian state when he fell ill.

In a vegetative state since January 2006, Sharon has been breathing on his own but fed intravenously, and in September he underwent surgery to fix the feeding tube.

A year ago, scientists said they had found surprising activity in response to external stimuli during a brain scan, suggesting Sharon might be able to hear and understand.

He was taken back to his family farm in the Negev Desert for a weekend in 2010, but he has spent the rest of the past 7 ½ years in Tel Hashomer hospital, according to the hospital spokesman, Amir Marom.

Sharon’s sons were with him at the hospital Wednesday, according to the people who had been briefed on the situation.

Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.

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