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President Bush Reacts to Sharon's Condition


Bush administration officials say they expect the Middle East peace process to continue making progress despite a massive stroke suffered by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.

President Bush says America sends its deepest sympathies to Prime Minister Sharon as Israeli doctors hope to help him recover from a Wednesday stroke.

"We pray for his recovery," said Mr. Bush. "He is a good man, a strong man, a man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people, and a man who had a vision for peace. May God bless him."

Speaking to U.S. university leaders at the State Department, Mr. Bush said Americans are praying for the Israeli leader as he lies immobilized in hospital.

Doctors say Prime Minister Sharon will remain sedated for at least another 48 hours before they attempt to revive him to test his cognitive abilities.

Doctors do not believe it will be possible for Mr. Sharon to return to work under the current circumstances. His deputy has taken over as acting prime minister.

Israel's cabinet has agreed to go ahead with plans for national elections March 28. Prime Minister Sharon had recently formed a new political party and was widely expected to win that vote before his stroke.

There has also been concern about the affect Mr. Sharon's illness might have on the timing of Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for later this month.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says both votes should be held as planned, despite prospects that Palestinian elections could see a rise in the Islamic Hamas movement, which the United States considers a terrorist group.

"I don't really believe we can favor postponing elections because we fear an outcome," she said. "I think that's not appropriate. The Palestinian authority needs to do everything that it can, Fatah needs to do everything that it can, to demonstrate to Palestinian people that life under a freely-elected Palestinian legislative council that would then work with the president that has been elected there, that life will be better, life would be more secure."

Ms. Rice says the Bush administration's position on Hamas has not changed, but its political role is an internal matter for Palestinians.

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