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Friday, January 06, 2006

Sharon Rushed Back to Operating Theater for Emergency Surgery - New York Times

Sharon Rushed Back to Operating Theater for Emergency Surgery - New York TimesJanuary 6, 2006
Sharon Rushed Back to Operating Theater for Emergency Surgery

JERUSALEM, Jan. 6 - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was rushed back to the operating theater Friday morning when doctors detected new bleeding in his brain.

Mr. Sharon has been in a medically induced coma after a massive stroke on Wednesday, and the new bleeding, discovered in a CT scan this morning, was creating more pressure inside his cranium, said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital, who made the announcement to reporters.

"It was decided to take the prime minister to the operating room to deal with these issues -- to stop the bleeding and reduce cranial pressure," he said. "The procedure is under way and when it ends, we will update you."

While Dr. Mor-Yosef refused to speculate, Mr. Sharon is considered to be near death and the new bleeding is not a good sign.

As Mr. Sharon lay incapacitated, Israelis focused on a future, and their future relations with the Palestinians - without him in power.

Mr. Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, named acting prime minister, held a special, somber session of the cabinet while Mr. Sharon lay unconscious in an intensive care unit after nearly nine hours of surgery following a massive stroke he suffered on Wednesday night. Mr. Sharon's chair, at the center of the long cabinet table, was left empty. It seemed clear to all that he very likely would never fill it again.

Doctors put Mr. Sharon in "deep sedation" and on a respirator for at least another 48 hours to decrease the pressure in his skull and to lower his blood pressure, said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. He said Mr. Sharon's vital signs were stable and he denied persistent rumors that Mr. Sharon was being kept alive artificially.

Mr. Sharon's stroke presented a sudden test not only for his new centrist party, Kadima, but for the notion that Israel can make further moves - after its withdrawal from Gaza last summer - toward the creation of borders with a future Palestinian state.

It is unclear whether Kadima will prove to be built on a lasting base of policy, bringing together a centrist majority in favor of accommodation with Palestinian aspirations, or to be simply an extension of Mr. Sharon.

Israelis believed Mr. Sharon, a longtime warrior, would provide them security because his main passion in government and out was to keep them safe. They were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his methods and policies, something they are unlikely to cede to his successor.

Today, most Israelis have lost faith in the political left to make concessions, fearful that it is naïve about Palestinian assurances. The political right opposed the Gaza withdrawal and has vowed to make no more such moves. Mr. Sharon, who came from the right but was joined by members of the left, has been a rare leader able to instill trust and withdraw from occupied territories. He did this through unilateral moves that did not rely on Palestinian cooperation.

Mr. Sharon's political friends and rivals all expressed hopes for his recovery, and suspended campaigning for Israel's March 28 election, which is expected to proceed on schedule. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he was "following with great concern any harm that may come" to Mr. Sharon, but he said that the Palestinian elections, scheduled for Jan. 25, should not be delayed. Some Fatah members wanted the Palestinian voting postponed.

At the Israeli cabinet meeting, Mr. Olmert said: "This is a difficult situation, one we are not accustomed to. The strength and might of the state of Israel will be able to handle this."

Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, said, "The message today from the cabinet meeting is that beyond the prayers and hope, the government is functioning."

The big question on Thursday was the future of Kadima. Voters, many of whom had been crossing from old party loyalties to explore new ones, may now return "to natural and familiar campgrounds," as Asher Arian, a political scientist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the Israel Democracy Institute, put it.

For most of his life, Mr. Sharon has not been Israel's most trusted or respected politician. He was known unaffectionately as "the Bulldozer" for his bullishness and lack of subtlety. But in the last few years he shed his reputation as the builder of settlements and became for many Israelis the embodiment of their hopes for a lasting accommodation with a separate Palestinian state.

Israel, with its many political parties aimed at relatively narrow sectors of the population, has rarely been able to create a party with a clear parliamentary majority. Israelis want strong leaders, but the parliamentary system requires coalition building among parties with limited interests.

The problem went to an extreme with Mr. Sharon, who could not even manage a majority in his own Likud Party for pulling Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza - and who barely mustered a parliamentary majority to do so - even though close to 70 percent of Israelis favored the plan.

"The old system wasn't working," said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at Hebrew University, explaining why Israelis responded so enthusiastically to Mr. Sharon when he broke with the right-wingers of Likud and created Kadima, which attracted the centrists in Likud, the security-minded voters of Labor and those who wanted a deal with the Palestinians shorn of religious and ideological fervor.

This seemed like the political realignment toward the center that has been at the heart of every Israeli reformer's dream, but that until now has never lasted.

But without Mr. Sharon at the helm, Kadima now seemed rudderless. In Mr. Olmert, Ms. Livni and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Kadima has a strong group of former Likud ministers, seasoned by the elder statesman from the Labor Party, Shimon Peres, 82, who can still help persuade floating Labor voters to leave their party and its new, inexperienced leader, Amir Peretz.

Mr. Olmert, a 60-year-old lawyer, will be carefully watched. He is a shrewd, experienced, capable politician, touched by arrogance, who was charged with floating the policy balloons, like Gaza disengagement, that Mr. Sharon later adopted as he moved from the far right toward the center.

But Mr. Olmert, who is widely expected to become the new head of Kadima, will have less than three months to show his abilities to exercise power as a leader and not as a deputy.

Without the appeal of Mr. Sharon, some Likud voters may return to the fold, and former Labor voters may once again be searching for a home, feeling that Mr. Peretz, a former union leader, lacks the experience and gravitas to be prime minister.

For Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Likud candidate for prime minister, "this is the window opening after the door was slammed," said Mr. Arian, the political scientist, who noted that Mr. Netanyahu also emphasized security and was a good finance minister. "But to take advantage he must move sharply to the center," Mr. Arian added, a direction Mr. Netanyahu previously rejected when pressed by Mr. Sharon.

Mr. Avineri said he thought that Kadima, under Mr. Olmert's leadership, still had a chance to be Israel's largest party and that Mr. Olmert could lead the next government. "Most Israelis consider Netanyahu a failed prime minister and Peretz not ready to be prime minister, so it's not an easy choice," he said. Some observers think the voter turnout could be low.

The likelihood is a return to messier coalition politics, with Kadima most likely to be in the next government in coalition with either Labor or Likud.

"The reason people supported Kadima was agreement with the policy but also their trust in Sharon, the person who would carry it out," Mr. Avineri said. "Now the whole campaign has been thrown into disarray. A new line was drawn in Israeli politics less than three months ago, and now lines will be drawn again in the middle of an election campaign."

Ordinary Israelis reacted with shock and a sense of loss to the news of Mr. Sharon's incapacity.

Amnon Binyamin said he felt as if hope had suddenly been pulled out from under his feet.

"Listen, it's tough," said Mr. Binyamin, 47, a television writer in Tel Aviv. "We had someone with an agenda of hope, a way to separate ourselves from the Palestinians, and now it's all been cut off. We don't know what will be."

Aryeh Shuneh, 50, was more sanguine. "There won't be chaos, there are enough people to take his place," he said. Mr. Shuneh, who owns a fruit stall in the Jerusalem market, described himself as "a Likudnik who wants peace." He likes Mr. Netanyahu and said, "If he has courage, he can make peace, too." Mr. Olmert, he said, "is not a popular figure."

"I think it's especially tragic because we were on the verge, for the first time in a really long time, of stability in the area and now everything is one big mess," said Natan Hayman dipping his pita bread into a plate of hummus in Tel Aviv. Nearby fellow customers kept an eye on the television screens at an electronics store across the way for the latest updates on the prime minister's condition.

"He was the leader who did things that needed to be done," said Mr. Hayman, 30, a lawyer.

Mr. Hayman had been planning to vote for Kadima, but now he said he had no idea whom he would support. He said he suspected that without the unifying force of Mr. Sharon behind Kadima, the party would crumble.

Mournful songs were played on the radio and scenes of Mr. Sharon in various settings - from feeding cows on his ranch to meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - broadcast repeatedly on television.

In Gaza on Thursday, the border with Egypt stabilized after hundreds of Palestinians burst through a break in the border wall Wednesday night and killed two Egyptian border policemen in an exchange of gunfire.

Dina Kraft contributed reporting from Tel Aviv for this article.

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