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Doctors battling to save Sharon

Israeli prime minister to remain sedated after severe stroke


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Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained on life support Thursday night after suffering a severe stroke and a brain hemorrhage, and his doctor declined to assess his prognosis.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of Hadassah Medical Center, said Sharon was in a medically induced coma and breathing with the aid of a ventilator, while doctors hoped for a reduction in cranial pressure following surgery that stopped the bleeding in his brain.

As the prime minister clung to life, Israelis and their political leaders began grappling with the idea that the Sharon era -- a time when the hard-nosed, larger-than-life leader guided Israel's struggle for lasting peace -- could be ending. (Watch Sharon's stroke throw question marks at Mideast peace -- 2:23)

Sharon, who suffered the stroke Wednesday, also had a minor stroke December 18. His two sons remain with him at the hospital.

Asked if Sharon would recover and be able to function, Mor-Yosef said, "Predicting the future at this time is impossible."

"We do not have any assessment at this point. We can only say, gradually, we will wake him up."

Mor-Yosef said Sharon could be in the coma for up to three days, but also said doctors "are fighting for the life of the prime minister without any compromise."

The doctor said the pupils of Sharon's eyes have been responding to light, indicating "the brain is operating." But because Sharon is in an induced coma, he said, "We can't carry out an exam on his cognitive functions."

After Sharon was brought to the hospital by ambulance late Wednesday, doctors operated throughout much of the night and into Thursday morning. (Full story)

The Israeli government had no official comment on Sharon's condition.

Shortly after he was hospitalized, Sharon's powers as prime minister were transferred to Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a longtime Sharon ally and former Jerusalem mayor. (Profile)

"We are all praying and full of hope for the prime minister's quick recovery," Olmert said. "This is a difficult and unusual situation. The strength of the state of Israel will know how to deal with it."

Sharon, he said, is "not only prime minister and a leader, but is the good friend of all of us."

Elections still on

Despite Sharon's illness, Attorney General Meni Mazuz said after a specially called Cabinet meeting Thursday that Israel's elections will be held as set March 28.

Sharon, a 77-year-old former general, orchestrated the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza in September.

Nicknamed "The Bulldozer," Sharon said he wanted to move forward with peace talks with the Palestinians and told his closest aides that he wanted a lasting peace as his legacy.

Sharon resigned in November from the right-wing Likud party -- which he helped found three decades ago -- amid opposition among some party members to his disengagement plan.

He formed a new centrist party -- Kadima, meaning "forward" in Hebrew -- and announced he would run for a third term as prime minister.

As doctors monitored Sharon's condition, speculation had begun in political circles about who would lead Kadima if Sharon could not and how Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz might benefit from elections with no Sharon.

Netanyahu, who was elected to head Likud after Sharon left, had planned to pull his ministers out of the government Thursday. However, he said Wednesday night that his ministers would stay put in an effort to keep the government stable. (Mitchell: Netanyahu likely to benefit)

Abbas expresses concern

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his concern over Sharon's health in a telephone call to Olmert, according to a written statement from the Israeli government.

Abbas said he is monitoring medical reports about the leader and hopes Sharon recovers quickly.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei also wished Sharon a swift recovery.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Palestinians were worried about the competition to replace Sharon.

He asked Olmert to support the scheduled January 25 Palestinian legislative elections by allowing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote, and he urged Olmert to "resume dialogue" with the Palestinians as soon as possible.

The Palestinian Authority has struggled to gain control over Gaza since Israel completed its withdrawal. After days of unrest in Rafah, some Palestinian youths carried signs Thursday reading "Death to Sharon" and passed out celebratory sweets. (Full story)

Prayers in Washington

In Washington, a U.S. source with ties high in the Israeli government told CNN the view is that it will be almost impossible for Sharon to resume the role of prime minister and that he has suffered permanent damage.

In a speech at the U.S. State Department, President Bush said, "My deepest sympathies to Ariel Sharon. ... We pray for his recovery. He's a good man, a strong man. A man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people, and a man who had a vision for peace. May God bless him."

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