Israeli PM Ariel Sharon Battles for His Life Following Surgery

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chaired an emergency meeting of the Israeli cabinet early Thursday, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon battled for his life in a Jerusalem hospital. Mr. Sharon's doctors said early Thursday that a second operation to stabilize the prime minister has proved initially successful.

Israel sought to convey a message of continuity to its citizens and the world as a special cabinet session was convened to discuss how Israel will be governed in the absence of Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon suffered a massive stroke and cerebral hemorrhage late Wednesday and doctors worked for hours to stabilize the 77-year-old prime minister. Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital says Mr. Sharon was sent back for a second surgery early Thursday, and efforts to stop bleeding in his brain have succeeded for the time being.

"After seven hours of surgery he was transferred to the imaging center and a CT scan showed that the bleeding stopped," said Dr. Mor-Yosef. "He has now been transferred to the neurosurgery intensive care unit for evaluation and treatment."

Dr. Mor-Yosef says however Israel's Prime Minister remains gravely ill.

"Prime Minister Sharon is in a severe condition," he said. "He is stable. All his signs, blood pressure and pulse are within normal limits, but his condition is severe."

Mr. Sharon was rushed to Hadassah Hospital late Wednesday after complaining of feeling ill at his farm in the Negev Desert. Media reports say during the hour-long ambulance ride to Jerusalem he lapsed into unconsciousness. His doctors say he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

On December 18 Mr. Sharon suffered a minor stroke and doctors had planned to perform a procedure on Mr. Sharon Thursday to correct a heart defect believed to have led to his initial stroke.

Intensive speculation has already begun about how Mr. Sharon's absence from politics will affect Israel's upcoming election on March 28, and how any future Israeli government will address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Asher Arian a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, and a professor at the City University of New York says Israeli politics could splinter in Mr. Sharon's absence.

"There is a fear that politics will shift back to a very unstable and business-as-usual kind of bickering over politics," he said. "There will also be a lack of a political giant to pull the groups together in order to govern in an effective manner."

Last November after facing growing discontent in the ruling Likud Party, Mr. Sharon announced he was leaving the party with many key allies to form a new centrist political movement called Kadima or forward. Mr. Sharon's bold political gamble proved to be an overwhelming success, and polls indicated he would easily win a historic third term - a term he said would be devoted to drawing Israel's final border with the Palestinians.