President Bush on Wednesday praised Ariel Sharon as "a man of courage and peace" and said he was praying for the Israeli prime minister to recover from a massive stroke.

Bush said in a written statement that he and first lady Laura Bush "share the concerns of the Israeli people ... and we are praying for his recovery."

"On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the prime minister and his family," the president said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said much the same in a statement, wishing Sharon a full recovery.

While Bush has yet to visit Israel as president, he has forged close ties with the Israeli leader and received him several times at the White House and once at his ranch in Texas.

All the while, Bush kept his distance from Yasser Arafat, sharing Sharon's distrust for the now-deceased Palestinian leader.

Bush has looked to Sharon for help in fulfilling a presidential vision of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel. Sharon has counted heavily on Bush to compel the Palestinian leadership to clamp down on terrorist groups.

While neither goal has been met, Sharon's decision to withdraw all Jewish settlers and troops from Gaza gave the Palestinians a stake in pursuing peace with Israel.