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Comatose Sharon moved to ranch home

Israel's former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma since 2006 after suffering a series of strokes, has left hospital and has been taken home by his family, according to his doctors.

Dr Shlomo Noi of Tel Hashomer Hospital, outside Tel Aviv, told Israel Radio that Mr Sharon was transferred by ambulance to the sheep ranch his family owns in southern Israel, accompanied by a full medical team.

Although in an unconscious state, medical experts declared that Mr Sharon was stable enough to be moved from the medical facility and return to his home.

A war hero and politician who was for decades one of Israel's most controversial figures, Mr Sharon found popularity as prime minister between 2001 and 2006, engineering Israel's Gaza pull-out in 2005.

Until his release, Mr Sharon was being kept in the long-term care unit at Tel Hashomer Hospital after suffering the strokes more than four years ago.

There has been no improvement reported in his condition. 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 Noi.

While Mr Sharon showed "minimal responses", there was no indication he would emerge from the coma, Dr Noi told Israel Radio.

"Beyond that, we have only hope," he said.

After the Gaza pull-out, he left the Likud Party, which he helped found, and formed the centrist Kadima, a party designed to be centred largely on his own personality. But months later, at the age of 77 and considerably overweight, Mr Sharon suffered a series of strokes that left him comatose.

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

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