Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has suffered what his doctors call a "significant stroke." Mr. Sharon's powers as prime minister have been transferred to his vice premier, Ehud Olmert.
Mr. Sharon was rushed to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital after complaining of chest pains late Wednesday.
Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef the medical director of Hadassah hospital says Mr. Sharon is currently under general anesthetic and is receiving breathing assistance. In a brief statement Dr. Mor-Yosef told a shocked Israeli public that Mr. Sharon had suffered a "significant stroke."
"Good Evening, the prime minister arrived about one hour ago at Hadassah Hospital," he said. "The diagnosis is a significant stroke. For the purpose of the diagnosis has been given an anesthetic and is on a respirator. He is now in the imaging department for a more precise diagnosis of the event."
Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef went on to say that initial tests indicate that Mr. Sharon had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding on the brain.
Israel's government reacted immediately, transferring Mr. Sharon's powers to his Vice Premier Ehud Olmert. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimom made the announcement.
"Given the fact that the treatment of the prime minister requires anesthetic I spoke to the attorney general and the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and it has been decided that Minister Olmert have powers transferred to him," he said. "The other ministers have also been updated."
The 77-year-old Mr. Sharon suffered a mild stroke in December and was scheduled to undergo a medical procedure on Thursday to patch a tiny hole in heart. His doctors had said, while he was extremely overweight, he was in generally good health.
Late last year Mr. Sharon left the ruling Likud Party and formed his own party, known as "Kadima," or forward to contest elections on March 28. News of his stroke has thrown Israeli politics into confusion. Daniel Ben-Simon of the leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, says Mr. Sharon's political era has now passed.
"After 60 years of action, you know for many Israelis he was seen as a war hero who became a peace hero and suddenly he disappears in such a dramatic process," he said. "It is very bad. You know he has become so dominant in Israeli life. He was seen by Israelis as somebody who could carry out the most difficult things."
Last year under Mr. Sharon's direction Israel carried out a withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. In comments made after he formed his new party, Mr. Sharon said if he won a historic third term he would use his mandate to draw Israel's final border with the Palestinians.