JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained comatose and in critical condition Friday, nine days after his massive stroke, and Israeli media said his doctors were increasingly concerned about his failure to regain consciousness after sedation was eased.
Israel TV’s Channel 10 and Israel Army Radio quoted Hadassah Hospital officials as saying they are worried Sharon still shows no signs that he is waking up from his induced coma.
However, Hadassah spokesman Ron Krumer said there is no firm timeline for when Sharon should open his eyes. “This is something that differs from one patient to another,” he said.
The hospital plans another neurological evaluation Friday, including tests of blood pressure, intracranial pressure and reaction to pain stimulation.
Sharon was put in an induced coma after his Jan. 4 stroke, but in recent days doctors have gradually weaned him off the sedatives. Doctors have reported only slight improvement in Sharon’s condition in the past several days, centering on small movements of limbs in response to pain.
A brain scan Thursday showed the remnants of blood in his brain have been absorbed, the hospital said. In response, doctors removed a tube they had inserted into his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.
The longer it takes for Sharon, 77, to regain consciousness, however, the greater the concern about extensive brain damage.
“If there was no brain damage, I would have expected him to wake up at this point,” said Dr. John Martin, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College in London. Martin is not involved in Sharon’s treatment.
The stroke has raised questions about whether Sharon’s Kadima party, which enjoyed a strong lead in opinion polls ahead of March 28 elections, could survive the loss of its dominant founder. But new opinion polls released Friday showed Kadima strengthening its lead under Sharon’s heir apparent, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In a Dahaf poll published in the Yediot Ahronot daily, Kadima won win 42 of 120 parliamentary seats, up three from a previous survey. The poll of 501 eligible voters had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
A Teleseker survey published in the Maariv daily forecast 43 seats for Kadima. The poll surveyed 502 eligible voters and had a margin of error of 4.4 points. Both polls gave Kadima a commanding lead ahead of its rivals Labor and Likud and would put the party in a commanding position to form a new government.
Sharon quit the hard-line Likud in November to form Kadima, saying it would give him more freedom to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians. Top politicians from Likud and Labor joined him.
Olmert, 60, has worked to project an image of stability, holding a series of meetings and assuring the public that the government continues to function. Olmert met with two U.S. Mideast envoys on Friday, discussing the upcoming Palestinian legislative election, Olmert’s office said in a statement.
The U.S. and Israel have expressed concerns about polls forecasting a strong showing by Hamas. The Islamic group is committed to Israel’s destruction, and termed a terrorist group by the U.S. However, Israel has reluctantly agreed to let the group contest the elections.
On a related matter, the Defense Ministry said it has delayed an order to remove an unauthorized West Bank outpost by two weeks, citing a court challenge by Jewish settlers. The Amona outpost was slated for demolition in the coming days. The ministry said, however, it would remove three other West Bank outposts next week.
Israel has pledged to remove dozens of unauthorized outposts, widely seen as fledgling Jewish settlements, under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, but has taken little action. The Palestinians have also failed to meet their road map obligation to disarm militant groups.
In another sign that the country is moving forward without Sharon, Israel Radio reported that Olmert will appoint the popular justice minister, Tzipi Livni, as the new foreign minister, fortifying her position in Kadima’s top ranks.
Livni would replace Silvan Shalom, who resigned Friday after Likud pulled out of the government. Livni is considered a rising star in Israeli politics and would be the most senior woman in the government. Barring an election upset, Livni is slated to continue as
foreign minister after the elections as well, the Maariv daily reported. An Olmert spokesman confirmed Livni’s appointment is likely, but said the acting prime minister won’t make a final decision until next week.
Likud’s four ministers resigned from the government his week as the party held primaries to choose its candidates for the March 28 election.
A wave of young lawmakers swept into the top three positions, after party leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Shalom, and dealing a defeat to the more experienced ministers.
Many of the so-called “rebels,” who prompted Sharon to defect and establish Kadima, were pushed far down the list, making their return to parliament unlikely.
Political commentator Hanan Crystal said was Likud list was “an unimpressive team,” and lacked a proper match-up versus Kadima’s list of top-notch stars.