Ariel Sharon is likely to survive but will never be Israel's prime minister again, doctors have said. A further brain scan has been taken and Sharon will remain in an induced coma for at least another 24 hours.
Sharon's brain is likely to be damaged to the extent that he will never be prime minister again
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to remain in a medically-induced coma, wired up to a life-support machine for another day, medical sources were quoted Sunday, after undergoing a further brain scan.
Experts at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem say the effects of the trauma suffered from the massive stroke and cranial bleeding Sharon has experienced over the last four days will have incapacitated him to the point that he will never be able to operate in the political arena again.
Sharon is expected to survive but his reasoning and thought processing is unlikely to be at any level close to that of a leading politician.
The front-page of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper was headlined "Moment of Truth" as the country was gripped by their stricken leader's fight for life.
As Sharon lay in intensive care in Hadassah hospital, his stand-in Ehud Olmert was to chair his first weekly cabinet meeting amid a row over whether four of its members should remain in government in a show of national unity or carry out their plan to quit.
Doctors have detected a reduction in the swelling in Sharon's brain following three bouts of surgery to stem bleeding, after the premier on Wednesday suffered his second stroke in less than three weeks.
But they will only be able to assess the extent of the damage to Sharon's brain after they have woken him from a medically induced coma, with a decision on when to try to bring him out of sedation due on Sunday morning.
In a brief update, a hospital spokesman said there had been no change in Sharon's condition overnight. "He remains critical but stable," Ron Krumer told reporters.
Sharon "likely to survive" but his political career is over
Ariel Sharon's political career seems unlikely to resume.
"The prime minister has a solid constitution," Jose Cohen, one of the neurosurgeons treating him, was quoted by Israeli radio as saying. "He will stay alive and will be in relatively good shape." But after such severe trauma there would undoubtedly be "cognitive damage", he added.
Sharon's chief spokesman Ranaan Gissin also said he expected the prime minister to pull through. "He has survived several wars and he is fighting once more for his life. It's a question of faith," he told AFP.
German government "standing by" Israel
Israelis and world leaders have already braced themselves for the end of the Sharon era, fearing his demise would spark new turmoil in a region struggling to find the path to peace after decades of conflict.
The German government said Saturday it was standing by Israel in "these difficult times."
"We fear, alongside our Israeli friends, for the life and health" of Sharon, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom by telephone, according to a ministry spokesman.
Steinmeier's scheduled visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt in the middle of this month was on hold until the situation in Israel became clearer, the spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also due to visit Israel at the end of the month for the first time as national leader.
Acting PM may lead Kadima into the coming election
Just days ago, Sharon, who has been premier since early 2001, and Kadima had seemed a shoo-in for a general election set for March 28 but all previous calculations are now being revised.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to lead Kadima in the election.
Olmert, while respected, has none of the clout or the power base that enabled Sharon to bulldoze his way through opposition to last year's pullout from the Gaza Strip.
The acting premier, who hosted a brief emergency cabinet the morning after Sharon's collapse, will chair his first regular meeting of ministers Sunday.
Cabinet secretary Israel Maimon was spotted at the hospital ahead of the meeting where the four ministers from Sharon and Olmert's old right-wing Likud party had been to submit their resignations.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has so far told the quartet, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, to stay put at such a time of crisis.
However the move is not universally popular, with many Likudniks despising Olmert even more than Sharon.
Likud heavyweight Reuven Rivlin, the speaker in the Israeli parliament, told the Haaretz newspaper that the party should "quit the government and battle Olmert head-on, with more determination than in the struggle against Ariel Sharon."
Shalom however said that: "Now is not the time for political battles. We must help ensure stability in the country and pray for the health of Mr. Sharon as everybody has been doing since Wednesday," he told public radio.
Palestinian vote to come before Israel elections
Abbas expects no "Sharon effect" on Palestinian polls.
Before Israel goes to the polls, the Palestinians are also scheduled to elect their own new government on January 25.
Although Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has said Sharon's plight should have no impact on the ballot, he has also threatened to postpone it if Israel does not guarantee that voting can take place in occupied east Jerusalem.
The issue is expected to come under discussion at the cabinet, and will face Olmert -- a former Jerusalem mayor -- with his first