| A file picture of Major General Ariel Sharon during the 1973 West Asia war. (Reuters)
Jerusalem, Jan. 5 (Reuters): Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, heavily sedated and on a respirator, clung to life today after a severe stroke that is likely to create a huge vacuum in Israeli politics and the West Asia peace process.
Surgeons at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital said they stemmed the bleeding in the 77-year-old leader’s brain in a seven-hour operation and described his condition as critical but stable.
Hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef, in an update several hours after surgery was completed, said Sharon would be kept in “deep sedation” and on a respirator for at least the next 24 hours to keep cranial pressure low.
Mor-Yosef did not say how much brain damage Sharon may have suffered from a type of stroke that is often fatal. Channel Two television said doctors would try to wake Sharon tomorrow morning to assess his condition.
Channel Two television, quoting a Hadassah hospital official for its information, later reported that the Israeli leader was not in a vegetative state and had retained brain and heart functions.
A cerebral haemorrhage, or bleeding stroke, felled Sharon yesterday in the midst of his fight for re-election on a promise to end conflict with the Palestinians. They lost their own iconic leader, Yasser Arafat, to a brain haemorrhage in November 2004.
Medical experts agreed the Prime Minister was unlikely to pull through without his faculties being seriously impaired. “The chances that he could recover or return to full functioning after an incident like this are not good,” Ziv Rosenbaum, a neurosurgeon at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv, said.
In Washington, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice hailed Sharon, who orchestrated a Gaza pullout in September, as a “gigantic figure” in West Asian politics.
Sharon, has long been seriously overweight. He was hit by a mild stroke on December 18 and medical experts speculated that blood thinning medication prescribed last month may have caused the bleeding in his brain.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned Sharon’s office to inquire about his health and wish him a speedy recovery. Sharon had been due to undergo an operation today at Hadassah to repair a tiny hole in his heart thought to have caused the blood clot that led to last month’s stroke. Sharon, popularly known as “The Bulldozer”, spent several days in hospital last month.