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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 15:11 GMT
Sharon urged to curb his appetite
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon is apparently willing to joke about his weight
Concerns over the health of Ariel Sharon have opened up a fevered debate in Israel on a highly sensitive topic - the prime minister's weight.

Israeli newspapers have been trying to find out precisely how much their leader weighs.

But they have discovered medical and intelligence staff unwilling to spill the beans on a matter of such gravity.

With much discussion of the prime minister's reportedly dodgy diet, even Mr Sharon's closest allies are worried.

As the 77-year-old prime minister recovered from a stroke at the weekend, US President George Bush phoned to wish him well, and to urge him to get some exercise.

"I need you to be healthy," Mr Bush said, according to a statement issued by Mr Sharon's office.

It could really be that the prime minister doesn't know how much he weighs
Amnon Dankner
Editor of Maariv

"Watch what you eat, and start getting some exercise and cutting down on the number of work hours," the president said.

Mr Sharon is known to work a long day, while the American leader likes to go to bed early.

But it is his diet which has raised most eyebrows.

Fast food stops

A journalist with Israel's Maariv newspaper said at a party on Saturday evening, the day before he was admitted to hospital, Mr Sharon was seen tucking into kebabs, steaks in sauce, lamb ribs, salads and various cakes.

Columnist Ben Caspit described it as "a typical Sharon menu".

Yediot Ahronot newspaper claimed the prime minister regularly orders shwarma - grilled turkey or lamb in pitta bread - and felafel - deep fried chickpea balls - to his office.

His armoured convoy also makes regular stops for fast food in Jerusalem, the paper said.

"The heyday of gluttony is over," ran the newspaper's headline, as Mr Sharon's doctors reportedly ordered him to watch his diet.

George Bush
George Bush advised his ally to get some exercise

Amanda Johnson, of the British Dietetic Association, told the BBC News website "a diet focused on fried and fatty foods is not a good idea", and recommended a balanced intake of fruit and vegetables.

Being of advanced age and overweight can make someone much more vulnerable to a stroke and other diseases, she said.

The prime minister is apparently willing to make a joke out of his weight, complaining that his security services have not found an armoured vest large enough for his girth.

Even so, his weight seems to be a closely guarded state secret.

Amnon Dankner, editor of Maariv, says his paper has tried everything it can to uncover the vital statistic, but has failed.

He says it is possible no-one knows - even Mr Sharon himself.

"It could really be that the prime minister doesn't know how much he weighs... because fat people don't like to know how much they weigh," he said.

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