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Doctors Try to Relieve Pressure on Sharon's Brain

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Doctors in Jerusalem say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will likely be unconscious for the next 24 to 72 hours. Sharon underwent emergency surgery last night to treat a severe cerebral hemorrhage; that followed his second stroke in a matter of weeks.

Israelis are waiting anxiously for word about the health of their leaders, many resigned to the prospect that he may not be able to return to office. Coming up in this segment, we'll have a look at the political implications of that, as well as Palestinian reaction. First, NPR's Peter Kenyon on the latest on Sharon's condition from Jerusalem.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Outside the Hadassah Hospital, spokesman Shlomo Mor-Yossef said the prime minister would likely remain under anesthesia for the next one to three days, but his vital signs were within normal limits. He said doctors were trying to relieve pressure on Sharon's skull. Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was permitted to visit Sharon's hospital room. He said the prime minister's son, Gilad, and an adopted son were in the room in the intensive care unit.

Rabbi YITZHAK BATZRI: (Through Translator) He is lying down. He is unconscious. He is on a respirator. He has a bandage on his head. But we tried to put our heads into the prayer and to ask the Almighty to help him and have mercy on him.

KENYON: A few Israelis visiting relatives stopped to comment on their ailing leader. Dahron Diamon(ph) said Sharon's turn for the worse was troubling.

Mr. DAHRON DIAMON: (Through Translator) It's quite painful to hear that the prime minister has to go back again into the hospital and to know that maybe he won't come out of it. In my opinion, he's the only person who can make decisions in this country and can also act on them.

KENYON: Professor Harry Rappaport, director of neurosurgery at Rabin Medical Center, told Israeli television that the lengthy surgery suggested great difficulty in stopping Sharon's bleeding, probably due to the blood-thinning medication he had been given after his first stroke on December 18th.

Professor HARRY RAPPAPORT (Director of Neurosurgery, Rabin Medical Center): The chances are very poor for recovery. We have to take into account the massiveness of the hemorrhage and his age. And usually in such circumstances, the prognosis is very bad.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Group of People: (In unison) (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: At the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, observant Jews said their prayers while Israeli paratroopers prepared for a graduation ceremony in the plaza behind them. Several of the young men in green uniforms recalled studying the tactics of the old paratroop commander now resting in intensive care. But in a reminder that many of the decisions Sharon made were deeply unpopular, a religious Jew standing nearby said while he included Sharon in his prayers, he doesn't wish him a return to office. Yuda Cohen(ph) says he was especially disappointed with the withdrawal of Jews from the Gaza Strip.

Mr. YUDA COHEN: (Through Translator) I hope that there will be somebody who will do a better job than he did. I wasn't that happy with him. All of his political plan was not good for Israel, and we can see it now in the behavior of the Palestinians, in the south and in Judea and Samaria. When Israel retreated, things were not good for Israel.

KENYON: But by Israeli standards, the political debate was heavily muted today as people wait to find out if this turns out to be the end of Ariel Sharon's political career or the final stage of his life. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.