- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was rushed to a hospital from his Jerusalem residence yesterday evening after suffering a minor stroke, raising questions about the health of the 77-year-old leader as he runs for re-election in March with a brand new political party.

The prime minister had just finished meeting with Knesset member Shimon Peres when he fell ill, his advisers said. He was brought at 8 p.m. to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he underwent a series of tests and remained under doctor surveillance for the rest of the evening.

Soon afterward, Mr. Sharon was reported to be joking with doctors, advisers and journalists about the incident.

“Preliminary tests show that the prime minister had a light stroke. During the examinations, his condition improved,” said Yuval Weiss, deputy director at the hospital. “Prime Minister Sharon was and still is fully conscious all the time.”

Mr. Sharon’s personal doctor said the prime minister suffered no permanent damage, the Ha’aretz newspaper reported on its Web site (www.haaretzdaily.com). The prime minister would remain at the hospital for at least 24 hours and maybe a few days.

It was a day of heightened tension with the Palestinians. A primitive Kassem rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near an industrial zone outside the nearby coastal city of Ashkelon and could prompt Israel to adopt tougher reprisal actions in the Gaza Strip to deter future attacks. Deciding on the severity of the retaliation normally would involve the Israeli prime minister, but the attack highlighted questions about whether Mr. Sharon was well enough to make those decisions.

Mr. Sharon’s former political party, Likud, holds a leadership primary today that pits former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The hospital said Mr. Sharon was chatting with family members and aides shortly after undergoing tests. Israeli television broadcast footage of Mr. Sharon’s son Omri, a parliament member and political confidant, arriving at Hadassah hospital.

If the prime minister returns to work swiftly, the stroke is unlikely to impair his election prospects, analysts said. However, it could shake voter confidence in Mr. Sharon’s newly created political party, Kadima, or Forward, which polls predict will be the top vote-getter in the next election.

“People will have it in the background of the propaganda battle, and voters will have it in the back of their mind,” said Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at Hebrew University.

“He’s only flesh and blood, and anything can happen. For a party like Forward, which is very dependent on the personal leadership of Mr. Sharon, the effect of his health will be more prominent.”

Israeli radio reported that political leaders from across the political spectrum, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called to wish the prime minister good health. In the streets of Gaza City, however, hundreds of locals poured into street to celebrate, some shouting “Death to Sharon,” the state-run radio reported.



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