Ariel Sharon
Ariel SharonReuters

In death, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has divided opinion as much as he did in life, as tributes and accusations poured in on the announcement of his death.

Sharon died aged 85, after spending eight years in a coma following a series of massive strokes. Known as The Bulldozer, Sharon was a divisive figure and a giant of Israeli politics who played a controversial role in the politics of the region.

The Israeli President Shimon Peres, who joined a unity government with  Sharon in 2001, said he was "an exceptional man and an exceptional commander who moved his people and loved them and the people loved him".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sharon's memory "will be enshrined forever in the heart of the nation." He said: "The State of Israel bows its head on the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ariel Sharon played a central role in the struggle for the security of the State of Israel over all its years."

US President Barack Obama sent carefully worded condolences "on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel".

He added: "We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country."

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Israel had lost "one of the most significant figures" in its history. French President Francois Hollande commended Sharon for "taking the choice to turn to dialogue with the Palestinians".

Ex-US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, a former secretary of state, said he "gave his life to Israel", adding he was "always trying to find the right path for his beloved country".

But Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, described Sharon as a tyrant and celebrated the "disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood".

Spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi Hamas said. "Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."

In Iran, state media branded Sharon "a criminal Zionist racist" and said he was the "mastermind of the brutal massacre of more 3,300 oppressed Palestinians and refugees". A presenter on the channel told viewers that  Sharon "got involved in the genocide and occupation of Palestinian lands by enrolling in a Zionist group in his youth".

Egyptian bloggers and public figures also posted their criticisms online. Egyptian actor and activist Nabil al-Halfawi tweeted: "Sharon died years ago, today he is being taken to the courtroom." Khayri Ramadan, a prominent presenter on one Egyptian television channel CBC TV, tweeted: "The murderer Ariel Sharon. Sharon died and is thrown in the history's dustbin because of his brutality, maltreatment of our brothers in Palestine and Lebanon."