JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent emergency surgery Saturday after an abdominal scan revealed severe damage to his digestive tract, and hospital officials said his life was in danger.
It was the seventh surgery for the 77-year-old Israeli leader since he suffered a devastating stroke Jan. 4. He has been in a coma since then, attached to breathing and feeding tubes.
“Sharon’s life is in danger,” said Yael Bossem-Levy, spokeswoman for Hadassah Hospital where he is being treated. His condition is now “very serious, or critical,” she said.
An abdominal scan Saturday revealed problems with the blood flow to his intestines and that his digestive tract had suffered severe damage, Bossem-Levy said. The restricted blood flow raised the possibility of necrosis, or death of tissue, in the intestines, she said.
Sharon was taken to the operating theater at about 11 a.m. (0900 gmt), and surgery began some time after that. Surgery was to last between three and six hours, Bossem-Levy said. Sharon’s sons, Omri and Gilad, rushed to the hospital Saturday morning. Later in the day, Sharon confidant Dov Weissglass, bureau chief Ilan Cohen and adviser Lior Horev arrived.
Israel’s political system has been surprisingly stable despite the sudden disappearance of the nation’s most popular politician from the scene and even though elections are just six weeks away. Sharon’s deputy, Ehud Olmert, quickly took over, both as acting prime minister and leader of Sharon’s new centrist party, Kadima, which has held steady in the polls.
The health of the overweight Israeli leader first became an issue in December when he suffered a minor stroke. Two weeks later, he was to check in to Hadassah for a minor heart procedure.
On Jan. 4, the eve of that procedure, he suffered a massive stroke. Since then, he had unconscious and critical, but stable, undergoing occasional brain scans to check whether there was bleeding or swelling in the brain.
Before dawn Saturday, his condition deteriorated. His doctors have come under fire from critics who questioned whether Sharon should have been treated with massive doses of anticoagulants after his first stroke, which was caused by a small blood clot in a cranial artery.
Doctors admitted that the anticoagulants made it more difficult for them to stop the bleeding from the later hemorrhagic stroke.
The extensive bleeding and the lengthy operations Sharon underwent to stop it have led experts to conclude that he must have suffered severe brain damage and was unlikely to regain consciousness. If he does awaken, most say, the chances of his regaining meaningful cognition or activity are slim.
Sharon’s stroke jolted Israel, which is gearing up for an election March 28. Just weeks before the stroke, Sharon had left the hard-line Likud Party and formed Kadima to gain a free hand for drawing Israel’s final borders, whether unilaterally or in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sharon had fought Likud hardliners to carry out the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which was completed in September.
With the pullout, Sharon shifted to the center of the Israeli political spectrum, winning the support of many doves and angering hawks who believed that the architect of Israel’s settlement expansion had betrayed them. The decision has proven to be hugely popular, with polls suggesting Kadima will win at least 40 out of 120 seats in the parliament in polls.
A war hero, Sharon had for years opposed concessions to the Palestinians. He came to accept the idea of giving land to the Palestinians and allowing them to form a state only during his most recent term as prime minister, which began in 2003.