| A file picture of Ariel Sharon with his dog at his ranch in southern Israel’s Negev desert. (AFP)
Jerusalem, Jan. 6 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, fighting for his life after a massive stroke, underwent emergency surgery today to try to stem fresh bleeding in his brain.
After the nearly five-hour procedure, Sharon was taken for a computerised scan of his brain to determine its success. A spokesman for Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital said it would issue an update on his condition after the scan.
The death or incapacitation of Sharon, who raised peace hopes by pulling Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza in September to end 38 years of military rule, would create a huge vacuum in Israeli politics and the West Asian peace process.
The hospital said earlier that the 77-year-old leader, in a medically-induced coma and on a respirator, needed surgery to stop new bleeding and heightened pressure on his brain.
Medical experts called the renewed bleeding, two days after Sharon’s stroke, a serious deterioration in his condition.
Sharon, long reviled in the Arab world but increasingly regarded as a peacemaker by the West, suffered his stroke at a crucial juncture in Israeli politics, as he was fighting for re-election on a promise to end conflict with the Palestinians.
Yesterday, surgeons said they had stemmed bleeding in Sharon’s brain in a seven-hour operation and intended to bring him out of the coma as early as tomorrow.
Medical experts said that if Sharon pulled through, his faculties could be seriously impaired, making a return to work impossible. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, was named acting Prime Minister on Wednesday after Sharon fell ill.
“This is the deadliest and most disabling form of stroke that we face,” Dr Stephan Mayer, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said.
But Sharon’s doctors, speaking before he went back into surgery, cautioned against jumping to conclusions before Sharon is revived and they can more fully assess his physical and mental abilities.
“For some reason, everyone is mentioning the less pleasant things ... any assessment is irresponsible ' things can go one way or the other,” Shmuel Shapira, Hadassah’s deputy director, told Israel’s Channel Two television.
Political analysts said Israel’s March 28 election, which Sharon had been widely expected to win as head of the new centrist Kadima party, would become an open race without him. A large part of Sharon’s popularity among Israelis stems from a belief he could take bold steps others would not get away with.
But two opinion polls published in newspapers today suggested that under Olmert, Kadima would still win around 40 of parliament’s 120 seats ' well ahead of Likud and centre-left Labour.
Sharon had been campaigning on a platform of readiness to give up some occupied land in the West Bank, but has vowed to hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs.