Officials at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem have sought to play down the significance of the fact that Ariel Sharon has still not regained consciousness despite a gradual reduction in his coma-inducing drugs.
The move came after reports on Israel's Channel Ten television station and army radio quoted sources at the hospital who said they were worried that the Israeli Prime Minister had not awoken.
Ron Krumer, the hospital's official spokesman, said there was no definite timeline by which doctors would have expected him to open his eyes in response to the reduction in sedation. "This is something that differs from one patient to another," he said.
Mr Krumer said doctors reviewing Mr Sharon's condition yesterday, nine days after he suffered a major stroke, had decided that there had been no change during the day. After a brain scan on Thursday showed that remnants of blood in his brain had been absorbed, doctors removed a tube designed to relieve cerebral pressure.
Mr Sharon's continued unconsciousness nevertheless fuelled speculation among doctors not involved in his care that he had suffered possibly irreversible brain damage.
Dr John Martin, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College in London, said: "If there was no brain damage, I would have expected him to wake up at this point."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which earlier this week reported that Mr Sharon had been suffering from cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), a disease which affects the blood vessels of the brain, quoted Dr Steven Greenberg, a Harvard Medical School neurologist, as saying that CAA was a "central risk factor" in the development of a brain haemorrhage.
Dr Greenberg also joined other critics of the treatment of Mr Sharon's first stroke in December by suggesting that the blood-thinning medication he had received then could cause a small haemorrhage to turn into a large and potentially catastrophic one.
However, Dr Greenberg said he was basing his comments on the very partial information available from the hospital.