- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

JERUSALEM — Doctors operated on Ariel Sharon for a third time yesterday to stem a new cerebral hemorrhage but said they had stabilized his condition, dispelling speculation that the prime minister was about to succumb to the stroke suffered this week.

Mr. Sharon’s doctors said it was too early to assess how much damage the prime minister suffered after two similar operations in as many days. That will have to wait until at least tomorrow, when doctors plan to wean him off the drugs that are keeping him in what they described as a medically induced coma.

At Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Director Shlomo Mor-Yosef told the Associated Press the new surgery yesterday helped stabilize Mr. Sharon’s condition. “Part of the blood clots that remained after the first operation were drained,” he said. “At the end of the operation, there is no active bleeding and the intracranial pressure has returned to normal.”

As a hush settled over Israel ahead of a fateful Sabbath for Mr. Sharon, the country’s chief rabbis called on synagogue-goers to recite special prayers for the prime minister’s recuperation.

But many Orthodox Jewish supporters of the settlers displaced by the prime minister’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip had little more than a dash of sympathy mixed in with a theological interpretation of Mr. Sharon’s affliction.

“God is paying him back for what he did,” said Yishai, a 16-year-old yeshiva student who declined to give his last name. “He was a hero of Israel, but now he’s the opposite.”

Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got calls of support from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as well as the dovish flank of the party he is inheriting from Mr. Sharon.

Haim Ramon, who bolted the left-leaning Labor Party to join the prime minister, said Mr. Olmert should take the lead in the new Kadima party. Mr. Olmert also held a meeting with former Prime Minister Shimon Peres at which the two resolved to work together to continue Mr. Sharon’s war on terrorism and support for the peace process.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has canceled a trip to Indonesia and Australia, also called Mr. Olmert and said, “Every U.S. citizen, from the president to the last citizen, are praying for Sharon’s health.”

A new poll showed that backing for Kadima hadn’t been reduced by Mr. Sharon’s stroke. Few expected Kadima to get support from the religious right.

When Mr. Sharon unilaterally relinquished Gaza and a portion of the West Bank in September to the Palestinians, Israel’s Orthodox nationalists condemned the retreat from the biblical Land of Israel as a sin and compared the prime minister to the Roman emperor who sacked Jerusalem.

Now, with most of the country already mourning the loss of Israel’s most popular leader in more than two decades, Mr. Sharon’s public opponents from the religious right have hushed their criticism. Settler leaders and parliament members even published wishes for a speedy recovery.

In the Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, the orange ribbons of solidarity with the settlers still dangle over the rearview mirrors of many cars, and banners from demonstrations against the disengagement remain draped over porch railings.

Among a handful of religious seminaries concentrated in Kiryat Moshe is the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, a school that inspired Israelis to reclaim the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 Middle East War as their own by setting up settlements. But residents of the neighborhood were wary of revealing any hint of schadenfreude in the decline of the prime minister’s health.

“The rabbis said it’s childish to be happy and celebrate,” said Yishai, a Mercaz Harav student and veteran of a rooftop standoff against the evacuation of a synagogue in the Gaza settlement of Kfar Darom. “But we’re not praying for him to continue, because if he gets better, he’ll do bad things.”

After Mr. Sharon’s first stroke, observers expressed concern about the ailment taking on a religious interpretation among Israel’s religious nationalists.

“I consider this more important that the political fallout,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.

“Because so many people prayed that God will punish Sharon and cut him down on his way to give pieces of the Land of Israel, right-wing religious fanatics might derive energy and encouragement from this medical event.”

But in Kiryat Moshe, many said it was impossible to decipher the divine motive behind Mr. Sharon’s ailment.

“It’s clear that God wanted there to be changes,” said Michael Ben Yitzhak, a resident of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak visiting Jerusalem. “But it could be that [Mr. Sharon] ate pig or didn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Mr. Sharon’s predicament has prompted Orthodox Israelis to seek out rabbis who can help them understand the implications of his sickness and whether they should pray for his well-being.

Ze’ev, a 20-year-old yeshiva student who lives in the settlement of Efrat, who declined to give his last name, said he would take his cue from an 18th-century Eastern European rabbinic scholar who said that it’s even more incumbent upon Jews to pray for the “wicked,” so they can mend their ways before death.

“A person who dies unfulfilled leaves the entire Jewish people unfulfilled,” he said. “[Sharon’s] root remains holy, but he tried to carry out wicked things, so it’s a complex thing.”

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