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Sharon Is Fine After Stroke, Doctors Say

The incident, which appears isolated, caused no lasting damage. Netanyahu is elected leader of Likud, the party Sharon left.

December 20, 2005|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Israeli doctors said Monday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had suffered no lasting damage from a minor stroke and would probably be released from the hospital today.

Physicians said the stroke Sunday appeared to be an isolated incident and did not signal any broader health problems for the 77-year-old Israeli leader. A blood clot blocked vessels in the brain but quickly dissipated, said Tamir Ben-Hur, head of neurology at Hadassah University Medical Center.

Ben-Hur said the stroke briefly impaired Sharon's speech but did not leave him paralyzed, unconscious or dazed. The prime minister was being treated with drugs to prevent further clotting, he said, and kept in the hospital for an additional night to rest.

"There are excellent chances the event won't repeat itself," Ben-Hur told reporters during a briefing carried live on Israeli television.

Sharon was rushed to the medical center Sunday night after complaining that he didn't feel well. Doctors said he never lost consciousness, and aides reported that he soon was making jokes and receiving a military briefing at his bedside.

Sharon was upbeat and active Monday, according to spokesman Raanan Gissin.

"He was moving around the room and instead of lying in bed he was sitting in a chair. He wanted to get out of there," Gissin said.

News of the prime minister's quick recovery came as his former party, Likud, was selecting a new leader to face Sharon in national elections scheduled for March.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily won the Likud primary. With 98% of the votes counted, he had 44%, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had received 33%. Two other candidates were farther back.

"Our country faces big challenges," Netanyahu said in claiming victory. "I don't think it's going in the right direction. I think our way will lead to safer shores."

Analyst Hanan Kristal said the results showed the party was veering to the right since Sharon left Likud last month along with more than a dozen Cabinet ministers and parliament members.

Sharon's sudden hospitalization prompted some commentators to reflect on his role as an elderly national protector, with no obvious successor.

"The stroke that Sharon suffered illustrated to Israelis how much they need him now. In the eyes of most of them, including many who support rival parties, he is the conclusive authority on security matters," columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the daily Yediot Aharonot.

Sima Kadmon, writing in the same newspaper, asked, "Who among all the contenders is capable of taking the state into his hands tomorrow?"

But concerns about Sharon's health may cause some Israelis to reconsider voting for him. This could hurt his new Kadima party, which has done well in polls but is built almost entirely around him.

Sharon's hospitalization inspired calls for medical records of Israeli leaders to be made public. In a nation where people routinely ask about topics such as income or political leanings, details about the health of its leaders are kept under wraps.

It remains to be seen how big an issue the health of Sharon, who is considerably overweight, becomes in the campaign leading to the March 28 national elections. Initial determinants will be when Sharon returns to work and how robust he appears, analysts said. But the issue has added an unknown quantity to a race that Sharon had appeared likely to command.

Some Israelis interviewed Monday brushed aside worries that a man of Sharon's age might not be able to lead. Many Israelis take comfort in the durability and experience of figures such as Sharon and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is 82 and still active in politics.

Yitzhak Maimoni, 62, who voted for Sharon in the past and plans to again, said he did not consider his age or health.

"We took into account his past, not his future," said Maimoni, an unemployed crane operator who lives in the Gilo settlement on the edge of Jerusalem. "I don't think anyone else is capable of running the country."

Netanyahu will fill out what is expected to be primarily a three-way race for prime minister in March with Sharon and the Labor party leader, in elections that will also select a new parliament. Labor's new leader is Amir Peretz, well known as a former union leader but a neophyte on the national political stage.

Likud members hope Netanyahu can save their party from plummeting poll numbers and growing despair since the prime minister's departure.

At stake for Likud, the dominant political party in Israel for much of the last 30 years, was whether it would remain an important player or be relegated to the sidelines.

The struggle for Likud leadership came down mainly to a race between Netanyahu and Shalom after another top contender, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, jumped ship to join Kadima last week. Also in the contest were Yisrael Katz, the agriculture minister, and Moshe Feiglin, leader of a hard-line nationalist movement called Jewish Leadership.

Netanyahu, 56, led Israel from 1996 to 1999. He campaigned as if he were already the party leader by zeroing in on Sharon, charging that the prime minister would give up too much to make peace with the Palestinians.

He attacked the recent Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a portion of the West Bank, a step pushed by Sharon, as bad for Israel's security. Netanyahu quit as finance minister in protest shortly before the evacuation began in August, despite having voted in favor during earlier stages of the government action.

Shalom, 47, sided with Sharon in supporting the pullout but has chosen to remain with the Likud. Shalom said he alone would be able to prevent the party from turning into a right-wing fringe group with little clout.

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