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Doctors decide to awaken Sharon

Brain scan shows improvement in Israeli PM's condition

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Doctors at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital have decided to begin trying to bring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon out of a medically induced coma on Monday.

Sharon remains critically ill, but physicians believe they can start reducing anesthesia Monday morning.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, hospital director Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said a brain scan revealed continued improvement in the 77-year-old prime minister's condition. (Watch rival's first media comments since stroke -- 2:43)

Mor-Yosef said the CT scan showed a reduction of fluid in Sharon's brain, which has required three surgeries to treat bleeding and swelling.

More tests indicated all other bodily functions were within normal parameters, the doctor said. (How religious law determines death)

Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presided over the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, leaving the chair Sharon usually occupies empty.

"We are hoping and wishing that the prime minister will recover, strengthen and return to presiding over the Israeli government and leading the state of Israel," Olmert said as the meeting commenced.

"In the meantime, we will continue to do what 'Arik' would want -- running affairs as they should be."

Sharon suffered a major stroke on Wednesday, his second stroke in three weeks.

Doctors cannot know the extent of the damage to his brain -- or his overall condition -- until the anesthesia is reduced, Mor-Yosef said.

"Before we wake him up gradually and test his reactions as he emerges from his coma, we will not be able to answer this question," he said earlier. "We as people are optimists. But I cannot say that he is out of danger."

Medical experts have said it is unlikely Sharon would recover enough to be able to lead the country.

But the prime minister's top aide, Ra'anan Gissin, seemed more optimistic after visiting Sharon on Saturday.

"He's got out of the dangerous zones and life-threatening situations more than the average person and, therefore, my belief is that he's going to pull through," Gissin said.

As a nation pondered life without the man who had directly or indirectly guided its policy for decades, Gissin insisted there will be "no political void" in Israel.

"I think Israel is the kind of democracy that has established procedures -- whether it's Sharon or anyone else -- to ensure unity and continuity," he said.

Peres won't challenge Olmert

Shimon Peres, a former Israeli prime minister and major figure in Sharon's new Kadima Party, said Sunday he will not seek to be prime minister.

Peres told CNN he will back Olmert. (Olmert profile)

The 82-year-old Peres told CNN's "Late Edition" that he thought about his next move and decided that as prime minister he would have to spend too much time on issues "that are not necessarily connected to peace."

"I want to devote whatever time and energy I have for the peace process" with Palestinians, he said.

Sharon's stroke comes at a politically sensitive time for his Kadima party, which faces its first national election, scheduled for March 28.

In November, Sharon abandoned the dominant right-wing Likud bloc he helped found in 1973. He had hoped to build support for his contentious proposal to turn over Gaza and parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control, while dismantling some Israeli settlements.

Faced with strong opposition from his Likud counterparts, Sharon left the bloc and formed the centrist Kadima party, hoping to sow already fertile political ground.

Olmert joined Sharon in leaving Likud, while Peres quit the center-left Labor Party to join Kadima.

By moving toward the center of the political spectrum, Sharon had planned to complete the West Bank withdrawal and conduct final negotiations with the Palestinians based on the "road map" for peace being pushed by the White House, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. (Watch how Sharon's health affects more than just the Middle East -- 2:57)

Before his debilitating stroke, polls showed that Kadima would dominate the elections and win the most seats in the Knesset, making it likely Sharon would remain prime minister.

Polls suggest that Kadima, even without Sharon, would still win more seats than Labor or Likud, but might do slightly better under Peres than under Olmert. (Full story)

Netanyahu: Time to 'put politics aside'

Sharon's chief rival in the March elections, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, said Sunday he is not campaigning or focusing on politics during Sharon's illness.

"This is one of the moments you have to put politics aside, however briefly. You do what is right and decent for the country," the former prime minister told CNN in his first interview since Sharon's stroke.

Netanyahu was part of Sharon's cabinet, but quit in August over the prime minister's disengagement plan.

Netanyahu said for now, he is focusing on Sharon's health, and "we are all united in prayer that he succeeds."

"I think history will judge him as the great leader that he is, notwithstanding the differences of opinion that existed," he said.

CNN's Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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