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Television evangelist Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which Robertson opposed.
"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,'" Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, "The 700 Club."
"God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone,'" he said.
Robertson's show airs on the ABC Family cable network and claims about 1 million viewers daily.
Sharon, 77, clung to life in a Jerusalem hospital Thursday after surgery to treat a severe stroke, his doctors said.
The prime minister, who withdrew Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza and parts of the West Bank last summer over heated objections from his own Likud Party, was breathing with the aid of a ventilator after doctors operated to stop the bleeding in his brain.
In Washington, President Bush offered praise for Sharon in a speech on Thursday.
"We pray for his recovery," Bush said. "He's a good man, a strong man. A man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people, and a man who had a vision for peace. May God bless him."
Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, compared Robertson's remarks to the overheated rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Full story)
He called the comments "outrageous" and said they were not something to expect "from any of our friends."
"He is a great friend of Israel and a great friend of Prime Minister Sharon himself, so I am very surprised," Ayalon told CNN.
Robertson, 75, founded the Christian Coalition and in 1988 failed in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He last stirred controversy in August, when he called for the assassination of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. (Full story)
Robertson later apologized, but still compared Chavez to Hitler and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the process.
The same month, the Anti-Defamation League criticized Robertson for warning that God would "bring judgment" against Israel for its withdrawal from Gaza, which it had occupied since the 1967 Mideast war.
Robertson said Thursday that Sharon was "a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition."
He linked Sharon's health problems to the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords that granted limited self-rule to Palestinians.
"It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, now he's dead," Robertson said.
Rabin was gunned down by a religious student opposed to the Oslo accords. The killer, Yigal Amir, admitted to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison.
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized Robertson's comments Thursday, saying the televangelist "has a political agenda for the entire world."
"He seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda," Lynn said in a written statement.
"A religious leader should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life," he said. "I'm appalled."
Ralph Neas, president of liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, said "it is astonishing that Pat Robertson still wields substantial influence" in the Republican Party.
"Once again, Pat Robertson leaves us speechless with his insensitivity and arrogance," Neas said in a written statement.
According to The Associated Press, Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts said of people who criticized the comments: "What they're basically saying is, 'How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?'"
"This is what the word of God says," Watts told the AP. "This is nothing new to the Christian community."