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Sharon moves left hand, showing improvement

Doctor: 'We were right on the edge of the cliff'

Sharon, seen here in a 2004 photo, has been hospitalized since a major stroke on January 4.


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Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continued to show improvements as he recovers from a major stroke, moving his left hand, his doctors said Tuesday.

The 77-year-old premier also moved his right hand and right leg with more strength than he had in the past, but the movement of his left hand is significant because that hand is controlled by the right side of the brain, which was damaged by the January 4 stroke.

"There is no immediate danger to the prime minister's life," said Sharon's anesthesiologist, Dr. Yoram Weiss. "Metaphorically speaking, we were right on the edge of the cliff. Now we are five meters back." (Watch doctor say Sharon has moved away from "the edge of the cliff" -- 2:32)

After his stroke, Sharon underwent three surgeries, totaling 13 hours, to stop the bleeding in his brain.

Weiss said Sharon's condition has stabilized. He said doctors will continue to reduce the amount of drugs in Sharon's system. The drugs have been used to keep Sharon in a coma in an effort to allow his brain to heal. That reduction could take days.

Asked when they would know the extent of the damage from the stroke, Weiss said, "We can't know yet what the cognitive improvement is. So what we have to do is be patient."

Sharon's two sons have been visiting the intensive care unit where their father has been recovering. Doctors played music by composer Wolfgang Mozart, one of Sharon's favorites.

Doctors said Sharon is continuing to breathe on his own, although he remains attached to a respirator.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah Hospital, where Sharon is being treated, said the prime minister's latest movements in his hands and right leg are "neurological changes indicative of slight progress in brain function."

'Slight movement'

On Monday, doctors said for the first time since the stroke there was a "slight movement" in Sharon's right arm and right leg during pain stimuli tests.

Sharon has not opened his eyes, doctors said Monday.

Asked on Monday when Sharon would no longer be in serious condition, another of Sharon's physician's, Dr. Felix Umansky said, "The moment he is conscious, that he speaks to us, that his systems work as they should -- then we can say he is no longer in serious condition."

Umansky added, "This is a very, very gradual process."

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been presiding over Israeli government Cabinet meetings, leaving the chair Sharon usually occupies empty. (Profile)

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

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.

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 United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

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