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Sharon undergoes brain scan

Israeli prime minister's condition remains 'critical and stable'
Israeli schoolchildren, one holding an Ariel Sharon photo album, gather outside Hadassah Hospital this week.


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Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent a brain scan Thursday that revealed he no longer needs a tube to drain excess blood from his brain, his doctors said.

The 77-year-old leader has been hospitalized since his January 4 stroke. He remains in "critical and stable" condition, his doctors said.

They earlier had said he would have to undergo surgery for the tube. However, the latest brain scan showed that the remains of blood in Sharon's brain -- left from the stroke -- had been absorbed, said doctors at Hadassah Hospital.

Sharon's heartbeat and body temperature were normal Thursday. His doctors also inserted an intravenous drip in his arm to reduce the chances of infection. After the procedure, Sharon was returned to his room at the neurosurgical intensive care unit.

On Wednesday, doctors said they saw "slight improvement" in the prime minister's condition.

Doctors on Monday began the process of slowly lowering his dosage of anesthesia and bringing him out of a medically induced coma.

Sharon's massive stroke sent shock waves through Israel's fragile political landscape at a sensitive time in Mideast events, just weeks before Palestinian elections on January 25 and an Israeli vote on March 28.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- Sharon's political ally -- has been forced to fight the former general's political battles in the wake of his health crisis.

President Bush telephoned Olmert on Thursday to express his support.

Three ministers of the Likud party resigned from Sharon's Cabinet on Thursday, following instructions from Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu -- Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Health Minister Danny Naveh.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom of Likud -- apparently upset that Netanyahu called for resignations without talking to each of the ministers -- did not immediately resign. A spokesman said Shalom will resign Friday, adding that he will not attend Sunday's regular Cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu had announced last month after his election to party chairman that he would take Likud ministers out of Israel's ruling coalition government. The action had been delayed by Sharon's stroke. Sharon, who helped forge Likud, broke away from the party last year and announced a new centrist party called Kadima.

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.

Palestinian Authority control of Gaza since Israel pulled out last summer has been chaotic, with roving bands of gunmen taking over police stations and kidnapping aid workers and tourists.

Violence was reported Thursday in the West Bank, with a suicide bomber blowing himself up in Jenin, and Palestinian gunmen firing at the house of Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef, wounding two bodyguards but not injuring the minister, Palestinian security sources said. (Full story)

Earlier in the week, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem would be allowed to vote in January 25 parliamentary elections at one of five post offices.

Shalom said Mofaz's announcement did not represent the government's view.

He said residents of East Jerusalem should not be allowed to vote in the city because the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas -- which publicly supports the destruction of the state of Israel -- is participating in the elections.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had threatened to cancel the elections if Israel blocks Palestinians in East Jerusalem from participating. Hamas candidates are expected to make major gains in the elections against Abbas' ruling Fatah Party.

Olmert announced Wednesday he will bring up the proposal to allow the voting when the Cabinet meets.

He said the proposal should go forward because Hamas candidates had not entered East Jerusalem and were not campaigning there.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have cast ballots at East Jerusalem post offices in the past under the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements at Oslo, Norway, in 1993. Otherwise, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem would be forced to travel to the West Bank to cast votes.

Meanwhile, Mofaz met with two U.S. Middle East envoys Thursday, telling them the Israeli government expects Abbas to have a detailed plan for disarming terrorist groups as soon as January 26, the day after the elections.

CNN's Avivit Dalgoshen contributed to this report.

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