Sharon in stable condition after emergency operation

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Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, remained in a critical but stable condition in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital yesterday. A spokesman said there had been no change after a four-hour emergency operation on Saturday to clear a blocked intestine.

The hospital said Mr Sharon's life was no longer in immediate danger, but he has not regained consciousness, five weeks after suffering a stroke. The surgery he underwent on Saturday was his seventh operation in that period. Surgeons removed 20 inches of his colon after gangrene set in, and he was put back on to a respirator. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah, said the surgery was a routine procedure but it would not make it easier for Mr Sharon to recover. He said the main problem was his failure to wake from the coma. "Every day that passes, the chances are reduced."

Motti Ravid, professor of internal medicine at Tel-Aviv University, commented in the Haaretz newspaper: "Sharon's continued unconsciousness and dependence on a respirator raise a major question of the likelihood of his returning to any level of functioning."

But Mr Sharon's family and associates refuse to give up. Raanan Gissin, his media adviser, joined the Prime Minister's sons, Omri and Gilad, in the vigil outside the operating theatre on Saturday. He said the mood afterwards was more upbeat. "He's been a fighter all his life. He survived all his battles and won most of them. We believe he has a life force in him that will enable him to pull through."

The medical profession is divided over the blood-thinning drugs given to Mr Sharon after his first, relatively minor stroke in December and the surgery after his second, more serious one, on 4 January. The hospital said all decisions were made in consultation with Mr Sharon's sons.