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Europe

World Fears Turmoil if Israel Loses Sharon

European and world leaders sent wishes of recovery to critically ill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Thursday, while Arab and Israeli media raised the prospect of a profoundly changed Middle East if he dies.

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Sharon is said to be in stable, but critical condition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday sent her best wishes to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who is seriously ill in hospital after suffering an extensive brain hemorrhage.

"My thoughts are with Ariel Sharon and his family at this time," Merkel said.

"With all my heart, I wish you a rapid recovery."

Sharon, 77, was described as being in a critical but stable condition in a Jerusalem hospital after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage on Wednesday.

He previously suffered a minor stroke on December 18.

What happens next

Anxiety over the future direction of Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians was palpable in the reactions to the news of Sharon's urgent hospitalization.

Israel Ariel Scharon im Krankenhaus

Emergency room of the Hadassah hospital where Sharon is being treated

While Palestinian newspapers Al-Quds and Al-Ayyam reported Sharon to be close to death, Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper wrote that "Israel is on the brink of political strife."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said in a letter sent to Israel's acting Premier Ehud Olmert that "our thoughts and prayers are with Prime Minister Sharon, the Israeli government and people. We wish the prime minister a full and quick recovery."

Sharon's fiercest enemy, the Palestinian militant group Hamas, gloated over the news.

"The world is on the verge of being rid of one of its worst leaders," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

"Sharon's fate is divine intervention reserved for despots and evil-doers," he added.

European leaders concerned

Leaders everywhere else, though, expressed their concern, with those from countries sponsoring the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process especially quick to say they hoped Sharon would recover.

French President Jacques Chirac -- who himself suffered what was believed to have been a minor stroke last September -- said Thursday that "all my wishes and all my thoughts" were with Sharon.

Israel Porträt Ariel Scharon - Presse

"Sharon fighting for his life, his powers were transfered"

He said wanted to see continued "the courageous initiatives started by Mr. Sharon that have already won approval from the entire international community."

In Moscow, the Kremlin said "President Putin, via Russia's ambassador in Israel, expressed his sincere sympathies to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and wished him the speediest recovery."

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on a visit to Beirut that he didn't want to speculate about the consequences of Sharon's invalidity and possible death. "Sharon is very ill and remains the prime minister. We hope and pray that he recovers... We hope and pray for that miracle," Straw said.

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