Israeli PM's Condition Grave After Massive Stroke

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Alex Chadwick speaks with Linda Gradstein, reporting from Jerusalem on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He underwent surgery for a massive cerebral hemorrhage after feeling ill Wednesday and his condition is grave. Sharon had a smaller stroke last month and was scheduled to undergo heart surgery before Wednesday's stroke. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has assumed Sharon's official duties.


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the future of television includes hour-long shows we'll all be watching in about 15 minutes.

First, this. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in critical but stable condition today at a Jerusalem hospital. He suffered a brain hemorrhage yesterday and a mild stroke a month ago. In Washington today, the US secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had praise for Mr. Sharon.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): We are all, obviously, greatly concerned for Prime Minister Sharon. We are all praying for his full recovery, along with the Israeli people. He is a man of enormous courage, and I think that what we've seen over the last year is that he is also a man who has a vision of peace.

CHADWICK: Mr. Sharon's doctors say he's going to remain sedated and on a respirator for at least the next day. Meanwhile, his official powers have been transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert. With us now from Jerusalem is NPR's Linda Gradstein.

Linda, what more can you tell us about Mr. Sharon's current medical condition?


Well, the doctors are describing it as critical. He underwent two very long operations to try to stop the bleeding in his brain overnight. One was about six hours, and then--well, the other was about three hours when more bleeding was found. Doctors say the bleeding has been stopped, but the situation really is critical. There have been a wave of rumors that he is either brain dead or already dead. Doctors at Hadassah Hospital and Israeli officials insist that isn't true. However, neurological experts say that the chances of recovery from this kind of massive brain hemorrhage are almost negligible.

CHADWICK: The deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, he's been a figure in Israeli politics for quite some time. Give us more on his background, would you?

GRADSTEIN: Sure. Ehud Olmert was a lifelong member of the Likud Party, which Sharon, in fact, was one of the founders of the Likud Party, and he left Likud to join Sharon's new Kadima Party. He was the mayor of Jerusalem for 10 years. He was--in fact, he's been in the Israeli parliament since 1973. I think he was one of the youngest Knesset members at 28. He also was one of the first to come up with the idea for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He spoke about it actually before the prime minister. That said, however, he has nowhere near the popularity that Ariel Sharon has had since the Gaza withdrawal. Sharon was seen by many in Israel as a father figure. He was respected for the way that he handled the five-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Ehud Olmert, in fact, is one of the least-popular politicians in Israel. And he's going to have quite a job ahead of him because this new Kadima Party that Sharon founded recently--there's no party list, there's no party platform. Kadima and Sharon were virtually synonymous. And he's going to have quite a challenge to try to make Kadima into a party before the elections that are being held on March 28th. Olmert today announced that those elections will be held as scheduled, despite Sharon's condition.

CHADWICK: What about the Palestinian elections that are scheduled in two weeks? Israeli elections in two months, Palestinian elections in two weeks. What does this do there?

GRADSTEIN: Well, that's a very good question. Even before all of this, there was some, you know, speculation--and in fact Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this week--that if Israel does not let Palestinians vote at post offices in East Jerusalem as they have in the past, that the elections would be postponed. Some in Abbas' Fatah movement have called on him to postpone it because the way it looks now, Fatah is in complete disarray between the younger and the older. There's, you know, shooting and armed gangs all over Gaza. So Palestinian officials have been considering anyway putting off the election. Fatah's facing a very stiff challenge from the Islamist Hamas movment. It really remains to be seen whether those elections will take place as scheduled, and it's really not clear yet what the developments in terms of Sharon and on the Israeli side, how that would affect the election.

CHADWICK: NPR's Linda Gradstein reporting from Jerusalem.

Linda, thank you.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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