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Sharon survives emergency surgery

Hospital: 'No immediate danger' to his life; coma is 'key problem'

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's life is in "no immediate danger" Saturday after emergency surgery for alarming damage in his intestinal tract, according to a hospital spokesman.

Doctors removed about 20 inches (50 cm) -- or a third -- of his large intestine, which had turned gangrenous, said the director of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, in a briefing to reporters.

"The key problem is his lack of consciousness," not the intestinal damage, Mor-Yosef said. He said Sharon has yet to emerge from the coma he's been in since his massive stroke on January 4. (Watch Mor-Yosef describe Sharon's condition after emergency surgery -- 4:10)

Mor-Yosef described Sharon's condition as "serious, it's stable, it's critical," but that there was "no immediate danger" to his life. He has been transferred to intensive care.

The deterioration of the intestinal functions generally strikes those who are unconscious or who do not move for a long time, Mor-Yosef said. Infection and a decline in blood supply contribute to gangrene, he explained.

Doctors first detected that Sharon's abdomen was swollen on Friday. After a CT scan showed extensive damage to his intestine, doctors rushed him into surgery, Mor-Yosef said.

The four-hour surgery is Sharon's seventh since his massive stroke. There was fear that Sharon would not survive the procedure, Mor-Yosef said.

But the surgery was successful, with "no complications," said Mor-Yosef.

The 77-year-old Sharon had a feeding tube inserted in his stomach on February 1.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told CNN "the White House is closely following the situation and keeping Prime Minister Sharon in our thoughts and prayers."

Sharon's stroke sent shock waves through Israel's fragile political landscape at a sensitive time in Middle East events, just weeks before an Israeli parliamentary vote on March 28 and Palestinian elections on January 25, in which the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas won a landslide victory. (Full story)

During Sharon's hospitalization, his powers as prime minister were transferred to Ehud Olmert, his longtime loyalist and a former Jerusalem mayor. Kadima party legislators also elected Olmert as interim party leader. (Olmert's bio at a glance)

Sharon founded Kadima in November after leaving the Likud party, which included members who strongly opposed his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and setters from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Before his stroke, polls had shown that with Sharon at the helm, Kadima would win the largest block of seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in the March elections, making it likely he would remain prime minister.

CNN's Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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