Prime Minister Sharon in 'Induced Coma'

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 5, 2006; 1:39 PM

JERUSALEM, Jan. 5 -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lay heavily medicated in an intensive care unit Thursday after emergency brain surgery following a massive stroke as the national vigil over his life continued. Doctors said his vital signs appeared normal, but that the prime minister's condition remained grave.

Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital, told reporters that a team of neurosurgeons had managed to stabilize the prime minister and stop the bleeding in his brain during an operation that lasted more than eight hours. He said Sharon is receiving medication to prevent further bleeding.

Mor-Yosef later said it was not immediately possible to assess Sharon's chances of recovery or his cognitive abilities while he remains in an "induced coma" following the surgery on the right side of his brain. In a press briefing to update the prime minister's condition, he said Sharon will gradually be "allowed to awaken" before tests are administered. "This is a long process," he said.

Earlier in the morning, doctors had scanned Sharon's brain following hours of surgery to find that the bleeding had not stopped. He was returned to the operating room where surgeons worked until a little after 9 a.m. local time. He was then taken for recovery to the hospital's neurological intensive care unit, doctors said.

Sharon, who is 77 years old and severely overweight, complained of chest pain early Wednesday evening at his ranch in the Negev Desert region of southern Israel. After being examined by Shlomo Segev, his personal physician, he was taken by ambulance to Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

Mor-Yosef said that Sharon was connected to a respirator and that surgeons had begun operating to drain blood from his skull just after 11:30 p.m.

Israeli officials said political powers were transferred to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, Sharon's close ally. Olmert gathered the cabinet Thursday morning for an emergency meeting.

The severity of Sharon's illness raised the likelihood of his prolonged absence from Israel's political stage just months before national elections. He is by far the country's most popular politician and has been seeking a third term, this time as the head of his new centrist party, Kadima.

On Wednesday, some analysts were already predicting Sharon's departure from politics and an intense battle to succeed him.

"I don't think he's a political player anymore," said Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, an academic research institute in Jerusalem. "This is the passing of the generation of the founding fathers, and, for Sharon in particular, of a man personally involved in every major military event and many of the biggest political ones in the history of Israel."

"His exit from the political scene will open the way to tremendous competition to replace him" as leader of Kadima, he added.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli leader's health crisis would not derail Jan. 25 voting in the West Bank and Gaza. "No doubt what happens to Sharon affects Israel first, but it will not affect our elections," he said, according to the Associated Press.

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