Saddened by the death of Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised the late statesman’s political courage and determination, and urged the country to build on Mr. Sharon’s legacy of pragmatism to press ahead with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In a statement issued by his spokesperson in New York, Mr. Ban offered his condolences to the late leader’s bereaved family and to the Government and people of Israel. Mr. Sharon, 85, became incapacitated by a severe stroke in 2006. He passed away earlier today at a hospital near Tel Aviv. “Throughout a life dedicated to the State of Israel, Ariel Sharon was a hero to his people, first as a soldier and then a statesman,” said the Secretary-General. “Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip,” the UN chief said, adding that Mr. Sharon’s successor faces the difficult challenge of realizing the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The Secretary-General called on Israel to build on the late Prime Minister’s legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel. “At this time of national mourning, the Secretary-General renews the commitment of the United Nations to work alongside the Government and the people of Israel for peace and security,” said the statement.