By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 12, 2006
JERUSALEM, Feb. 11 -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, comatose for the past five weeks following a massive stroke, underwent emergency abdominal surgery Saturday after doctors discovered extensive damage to his digestive tract.
The 77-year-old prime minister has been in serious but stable condition since enduring several rounds of emergency surgery last month to stop brain hemorrhaging that followed his Jan. 4 stroke. A scan of his digestive tract early Saturday revealed restricted blood flow, and Sharon was rushed into the operating room, where doctors removed nearly two feet, or roughly one-third, of his large intestine during four hours of surgery.
"From the standpoint of his present condition, the situation is serious, the situation is stable, the situation is critical," Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital, where Sharon is being treated, told reporters after the surgery. "But there is no immediate danger to the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."
Earlier in the day, however, hospital officials said Sharon was fighting for his life.
The abdominal scan indicated the possibility of dead tissue in his digestive tract, hospital officials said. The prime minister, severely overweight before his stroke, has been fed through a tube for several weeks.
Sharon's sons, Omri and Gilad, rushed to the hilltop hospital early Saturday to be with their father, and his key advisers were there as well. But a few hours after Sharon emerged from surgery, Mor-Yosef described the procedure as "basic" and said the prime minister remained in the serious but stable condition he has been in for weeks.
Following the surgery, Sharon was taken to the intensive care unit for recovery. Mor-Yosef said Sharon's vital signs are within normal ranges, but that his slow recovery from the stroke would likely be further delayed by Saturday's procedure.
"Today's surgery didn't improve Sharon's health," Mor-Yosef said.
Sharon's prognosis has been grim since last month. Few people, if any, believed he would recover sufficiently to return to politics and seek a third term as prime minister in the March elections. But, as a historic figure whose unfinished political program has been embraced by a majority of Israelis, he continues to command the attention of much of the country.
Last year, Sharon evacuated 8,500 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in a unilateral withdrawal from territory that Palestinians envision as part of their future state. The move drew international praise for Sharon, who is despised in the Arab world for having taken Israel into the 1982 Lebanon civil war and for the harsh tactics he has employed during the most recent Palestinian uprising. The move also raised the prospect of further evacuations.
The withdrawal was controversial within Israel, and it led Sharon to bolt from his longtime political home, the Likud Party, to form the centrist Kadima party, which many Israelis believe will push to determine Israel's final borders through negotiation or additional unilateral pullbacks.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was briefed several times Saturday on Sharon's medical condition, has echoed Sharon's positions as he prepares to lead Kadima into the March elections. Polls suggest the party could win more than a third of the seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, making it by far the largest bloc.
Olmert, 60, has said setting Israel's final borders will be the next government's most pressing task. Like Sharon, Olmert has said that those final boundaries, drawn in a way to ensure a lasting Jewish majority within them, would include all of Jerusalem, the large settlement blocs in the West Bank, and security zones, including the Jordan Valley.