Sharon's condition remains critical

Palestinian schoolboys celebrate as they flash V signs after they heard about the critical condition of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, at the Ein-el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp Thursday.

Photos by The Associated Press
Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 11:17 p.m.
JERUSALEM - With family members at his bedside, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lay in critical condition Thursday after overnight emergency surgery to stop extensive bleeding in his brain. Based on the comments of physicians attending him, it appeared unlikely he would recover sufficiently to return to politics, even if he were to survive the effects of the massive stroke he suffered on Wednesday.
Sharon remained in the neurological intensive care unit at Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital, here he underwent more than seven hours of surgery that ended Thursday morning. Although doctors said his vital signs were normal, the prime minister, 77, was breathing with the help of a respirator and doctors said he would remain "deeply sedated" for at least another day.
"This is a lengthy process," said Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the hospital director, in response to a question about when Sharon might regain consciousness. "It won't be in the coming hours. It will be at least 48 hours after the prime minister's emergence from surgery."
"All vital signs are functional and stable," Mor-Yosef continued. "The prime minister is in critical condition."
Mor-Yosef said Sharon's eyes were reacting to light, indicating his brain functions were still present, and said his vital signs were "as expected after this kind of surgery."
Dozens of Israelis prayed for Sharon at the Western Wall on Thursday. The Tel Aviv stock market index was down 5 percent during the day, and Palestinian and Israeli officials analyzed the effects of the prime minister's absence.
Sharon, a leading member of Israel's founding generation, had been projected to win a third term as prime minister at the head of his new Kadima party in elections scheduled for March 28. His Cabinet began working to assure Israelis that the government, firmly in Sharon's hands since he became prime minister in 2001, remained on the job.
"We are closely monitoring developments in these difficult hours and our eyes, and those of the entire world, are directed toward the hospital in the hope of seeing the prime minister, who has emerged from so many previous battles, emerging from this battle as well and taking his seat here," Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting prime minister, said before convening an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday. He gestured to the empty chair where Sharon would normally sit.
"This is a difficult and unusual situation," Olmert continued. "The strength of the state of Israel will know how to deal with it."
Throughout the day, foreign leaders expressed hopes for Sharon's recovery. The former army general has received international praise for opposing members of his own hard-line party, Likud, to withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip last year after 38 years of Israeli occupation. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Sharon as "a man of enormous courage," and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sent best wishes.
There were statements of sympathy from Palestinians as well, even though Sharon has long been reviled for his tough military tactics. He was a primary architect of the settlement movement that began after Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
Officials of the Palestinian Authority sent messages of concern and expressed hope he would be able to return to office. But some members of radical Palestinian groups celebrated Sharon's health crisis. In Damascus, the Syrian capital, Ahmed Jabril, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called Sharon's illness a gift from God, the Associated Press reported.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who recently called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," said he hoped Sharon would die, the Reuters news agency reported.
"Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final," Reuters reported, based on quotes from Ahmadinejad transmitted by Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency.
An Israeli investigation found that Sharon bore "indirect responsibility" for the 1982 massacre of at least 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southern Beirut. Sharon was Israel's defense minister at the time of the massacre, carried out by Christian militias allied with Israel in Lebanon's civil war.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he was monitoring Sharon's condition with "great worry." But he pledged that the prime minister's health troubles would not disrupt the election of a 132-seat Palestinian parliament scheduled for Jan. 25. Sharon has prohibited the voting from taking place in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. "No doubt what happens to Sharon effects Israel first," Abbas told reporters. "But it will not effect our elections."
Sharon's illness brought postponement of a regional visit by Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. A high-ranking U.S. delegation also called off a meeting to discuss allowing the Palestinian elections to be conducted in East Jerusalem.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with the Israelis, said he hoped Olmert would decide quickly to allow campaigns and voting to take place in East Jerusalem. Abbas has said he might cancel the elections for a second time if Palestinians cannot cast ballots in the city, which Palestinians and Israelis claim as their capital.
"I hope Mr. Olmert moves on this," said Erekat, who called Israeli officials to express his hope Sharon would recover soon. "Delaying the elections will create more problems than it would solve, create more chaos and more violence."
Sharon's physicians defended their decision to transport the prime minister by road from his ranch in the Negev Desert region of southern Israel to Jerusalem after he complained of chest pain on Wednesday evening. He was examined by his personal physician, Shlomo Segev, who accompanied Sharon to Jerusalem, about an hour away, although there are hospitals closer to Sharon's Sycamore Ranch.
Mor-Yosef said Sharon was taken to Jerusalem because doctors there were most familiar with his case. The prime minister was treated at Hadassah hopsital on Dec. 18 for a mild stroke, and had been taking blood-thinning medication since then. He was scheduled to undergo a catheterization procedure Thursday to repair a hole between the upper chambers of his heart, which doctors believed may have caused the first stroke.

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