- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

TEL AVIV — Ariel Sharon, still unconscious after suffering a massive stroke more than a month ago, underwent emergency surgery yesterday afternoon to remove a diseased portion of his intestine.

Later in the day, doctors said that Mr. Sharon’s condition was “critical and stable” and that there was no longer an immediate threat to his life.

The 77-year-old prime minister has been in a coma since the stroke, and every day that passes reduces the prognosis for his recovery.

“The central problem of Prime Minister Sharon is his unconsciousness,” Hadassah Hospital spokesman Shlomo Mor-Yosef said of the four-hour operation. “The stomach problem that was discovered overnight and today is in addition to the central problem.”

The incapacitation of the popular ex-general opened a vacuum in Israeli politics at a time when his breakaway party, Kadima, seemed poised to win a landslide victory in a March 28 parliamentary election.

Under the fledgling leadership of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Kadima has managed to protect its lead in the polls, but the Sharon ally has struggled in the long shadow of the prime minister.

Hoping Mr. Sharon would regain consciousness in the week after the stroke, Israelis hung on regular reports from Hadassah Hospital on the prime minister’s condition and his response to stimuli. But in recent weeks, those updates have become rarer as Mr. Sharon remained unconscious and in critical condition.

Mr. Sharon has undergone seven surgeries since suffering the stroke. The intestinal problem was noticed overnight on Friday. A CT scan performed by hospital staff revealed that blood was not reaching the intestine and risked killing off the tissue in the area.

The operation removed one-third of the prime minister’s large intestine, about 2 feet. Mr. Sharon’s sons and aides were summoned to the hospital for the unplanned procedure, stirring concern that the prime minister had little time to live.

Following the procedure, Mr. Sharon was reported to be in the intensive-care unit.

As hope faded for Mr. Sharon’s return to political life, Israel’s election campaign has resumed, but his presence is still being felt. Mr. Sharon has been used as a benchmark to criticize the decisions of Mr. Olmert on relations with the Palestinian Authority and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Mr. Olmert’s violent evacuation of nine houses in the West Bank hilltop outpost of Amona came in stark contrast to Mr. Sharon’s relatively peaceful campaign to withdraw settlers from Gaza. Critics of Mr. Olmert also suggested that Mr. Sharon would have frozen tax revenue due to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ victory in parliamentary elections, rather than continue transferring funds to the Palestinians.

President Bush, informed of the surgery, said through a spokesman, “Prime Minister Sharon remains in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Yonathan Halevy, the director of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, said miraculous recoveries have been known to occur. “But given Sharon’s advanced age and his heavy weight, and the 38 days in a coma, despite all of the prayers to the contrary, I am pessimistic.”

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