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Sharon stable after 3rd brain operation

Doctors stop bleeding, reduce pressure, hospital says

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Ariel Sharon's grave illness has left Israeli political leaders grappling with what could be the end of an era.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Bleeding in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's brain has been stopped and scans show improvement Friday after a third round of surgery to treat a major stroke, a hospital official said.

The 77-year-old leader remained in critical condition, according to Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.

The third surgery lasted more than four hours. "The intracranial pressure was reduced," Mor-Yosef said. "Some of the clots were drained from the previous operation. At the conclusion of the operation there was no active hemorrhaging and the intracranial hemorrhaging has been eliminated and the pressure has gone back to normal." (Watch as doctors fight to save Sharon 1:58)

A brain scan following the procedure showed "significant improvement in the appearance of the scan as interpreted by the neurologists and experts in neurosurgery and imaging," he said.

After being hospitalized for the stroke on Wednesday night, Sharon has been in a medically induced coma, breathing with the aid of a respirator.

Doctors rushed Sharon back into the operating room after a CT scan Friday morning showed renewed bleeding and increasing pressure on his brain.

Friday's surgery followed two other surgeries -- one lasting six hours, another lasting three -- that were conducted immediately after Wednesday's stroke. Sharon also had a minor stroke December 18 and had been scheduled for surgery to repair a small hole in his heart.

Doctors said it has been impossible to determine the extent of brain damage Sharon has suffered. However, medical experts said that after so many lengthy surgeries it would be almost impossible for Sharon to resume his public life if he recovers.

Peace process ramifications

The prime minister's health crisis has prompted Israelis to grapple with the idea that the Sharon political era -- a time when the hard-nosed, larger-than-life leader guided Israel's struggle for lasting peace -- could be ending.

Sharon led Israel's military and settler withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and favored the internationally brokered "road map" to Mideast peace that calls for creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a Sharon ally, is leading the nation, likely till the March 28 elections.

But Israelis have begun to wonder who would lead the new centrist political party, Kadima, which Sharon founded. Speculation is high about whether the party can win the election without Sharon. (Profile)

Before his stroke, polls had shown that a Sharon-led Kadima would win the largest block of seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

A poll conducted Thursday by the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz and Israeli television Channel 10 showed that Kadima would still win without Sharon. (Full story)

But political observers said Kadima members will need to quickly choose and rally around a new leader to prevent opposition Labor and Likud parties from gaining ground.

Bush prays for Sharon

President Bush, who delivered a speech on the economy Friday in Chicago, has been praying for Sharon's recovery, an aide said. The aide, White House spokesman Trent Duffy, also said Bush believes remarks about Sharon by the Rev. Pat Robertson were "wholly inappropriate and offensive."

On Thursday, Robertson said on his "700 Club" television program that he believed Sharon's stroke was divine punishment. (Full story)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday canceled a six-day trip to Indonesia and Australia because of Sharon's uncertain condition.

"She decided that because of the situation in the Middle East it was the right decision to stay here in Washington," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Rice also spoke with Olmert on Friday but McCormack would not discuss details of their conversation other than to say Rice wanted to express "solidarity."

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