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Ariel Sharon Clings to Life in Critical Condition


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon emerged from seven hours of surgery in critical, but stable condition after suffering a massive stroke Wednesday. As Mr. Sharon clung to life, Israel moved to a transitional administration that is expected to govern the country until national elections on March 28.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, can serve as Israel's acting prime minister for up to 100 days, taking the country through the elections. Mr. Olmert met with Ariel Sharon's staff and chaired a cabinet meeting at which it was agreed that Israel will hold national elections as scheduled on March 28.

Eyes in Israel were glued to television screens that showed pictures of the scene outside Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, where Ariel Sharon underwent two lengthy operations after suffering a massive stroke and cerebral hemorrhage.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of the hospital says the 77-year-old Mr. Sharon remains in critical, but stable, condition in a medically induced coma.

"All the vital signs and measurements are according to what is expected after such a long surgery and after a hemorrhagic stroke," the doctor explained. "As part of the treatment Prime Minister Sharon is under anesthesia and he is ventilated, at least for the next 24 hours."

Dr. Mor-Yosef says medical authorities at the hospital will present the public with periodic accurate updates about the health of their prime minister. He appealed for Israelis to ignore rumors they might hear regarding Mr. Sharon's condition.

"As a director general of the Hadassah medical organization I promise that any change in the prime minister's condition will be reported immediately to the citizens of Israel," he said.

Mr. Sharon suffered a mild stroke on December 18 and was released quickly from the hospital. At the time doctors said while he was heavily overweight he was in generally good condition for a man of his age.

Reaction to Mr. Sharon's condition was subdued in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his concern, and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Palestinians will work with any future government

"No doubt Israelis will miss Mr. Sharon as a leader and as a decision maker," Mr. Qureia said. "For us the Palestinians, what concerns us first we hope he will recover, and secondly we are looking for an Israeli leader to be in favor of peace, to be ready to sit with the Palestinians to start a serious civil negotiations. This is what we need."

Intensive speculation has begun about how Mr. Sharon's absence from politics will affect Israel's upcoming election and how a future Israeli government will address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Asher Arian a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a professor at the City University of New York says Israeli politics could splinter in Mr. Sharon's absence.

"There is a fear that politics will shift back to a very unstable and business-as-usual kind of bickering over politics," said Asher Arian. "There will also be a lack of a political giant to pull the groups together in order to govern in an effective manner."

Last November, after facing growing discontent in the ruling Likud Party, Mr. Sharon announced he was leaving the party to form a new centrist political movement called Kadima. Mr. Sharon's bold political gamble proved to be an overwhelming success, and polls indicated he could easily win a historic third term - a term he said would be devoted to drawing Israel's final border with the Palestinians.