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Israeli leader Sharon fights for his life
Updated: 2006-01-06 06:54

Doctors said Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be kept in a coma-like state for up to three days to prevent further damage from a massive stroke. His sons held a bedside vigil and state media broadcast mournful songs.

Hadassah Hospital's switchboard was flooded with get-well messages and the nation's top rabbis called on Israelis to rush to synagogues and pray for the 77-year-old ex-general, whom many saw as the best hope for peace with the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, and Vice-Premier Ehud Olmert attend a session in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in this Wednesday Feb. 23, 2005 file photo.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, and Vice-Premier Ehud Olmert attend a session in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in this Wednesday Feb. 23, 2005 file photo.[AP]

Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, tried to convey a sense of stability while serving as acting prime minister, but Sharon's dramatic downturn left Israelis fearful.

The Web site of the respected Haaretz daily quoted hospital officials as saying Sharon suffered vast brain damage.

But Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Hadassah Hospital director, sought to quash widespread rumors that the prime minister was brain-dead. Sharon's pupils were responding to light, "which means the brain is functioning," he told reporters.

"We are fighting for the life of the prime minister, with no compromise," he said.

Dr. Zeev Feldman, a neurosurgeon at Israel's Tel Hashomer Hospital who is not involved in Sharon's treatment, said the test results appeared encouraging.

"I think this is good news. This information that the prime minister is reacting and they got reactions from him to stimulation is really a situation that can show that he is waking up after the operation," Feldman told Channel 2. "This is the first time that we have a positive indications regarding his condition."

However, other neurosurgeons not involved in Sharon's treatment said a full recovery was unlikely after such a massive stroke. Sharon aides said they assume he would not return to work."

I'm worried about the future of this country, about everything in this country," said Rafael Levy, a 42-year-old construction engineer from Tel Aviv.

Sharon underwent seven hours of surgery Thursday at Hadassah Hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He will remain sedated and on a respirator for two to three days to give him time to recover, and then he will be gradually awakened, hospital officials said. His sons, Omri and Gilad, were by his side at the neurological intensive care unit.

Sharon's collapse less than three months before March 28 elections left in limbo his moderate Kadima Party, which had appeared headed for an easy victory.

Palestinians reacted with a mixture of glee at seeing the fall of their longtime enemy and apprehension at the instability that could follow. Some Palestinian leaders worried Sharon's illness could derail their Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. "We are watching with great worry at what might happen if he is harmed," Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said.
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