The terse headlines on the front pages of many Israeli newspapers - 'Sharon fighting for his life' - reflect the widespread sense of shock over the prime minister's sudden decline in health.
Commentators are in sombre mood as they gauge the impact on the political landscape.
They speculate that even should Ariel Sharon recover, the era of his leadership is over.
SIMA KADMON IN YEDIOT AHARONOT
Even if Sharon comes out of the condition he is in, the process of his recovery will be very long. It is difficult to see Sharon contesting the upcoming elections at the head of the party he had established [Kadima]. From this morning what we have here is a totally different political system.
ALUF BENN IN HAARETZ
The hospitalisation of Ariel Sharon ... will make it difficult for him to return to his job even if he survives. Moreover, he will have a hard time convincing the public of his ability to serve four more years, after undergoing two strokes in two and a half weeks. One can cautiously say it appears that the era in which Sharon stood at Israel's helm came to a tragic end yesterday. The race for prime minister, which until yesterday looked like Sharon's one-man show, is now open.
NADAV EYAL IN MAARIV
Three big parties are contesting seniority in Israel and none of them will remain as it was last night, and will not get the same number of mandates. Kadima will be forced to try to overcome Sharon's absence, at least in the near future, for Sharon is Kadima and Kadima is Sharon... [The 2006 election campaign] has begun with a big national trauma.
NAHUM BARNEA IN YEDIOT AHARONOT
The gravity of Sharon's condition reshuffles all the political cards. It postpones the resignation of the Likud ministers. It moderates the general tone in the election campaign. It is premature to sum up Sharon's public career, his political and military achievements, his contribution to the strengthening and success of Israel. But it is possible to say at this hour that only a few among Israel's leaders had the self-confidence, composure, courage that Sharon demonstrated during his two terms of office as prime minister.
AMNON DANKNER IN MAARIV
Yesterday Israel's citizens held their breath, crossed fingers and prayed for the safety of the prime minister. They did this regardless of their political views because Sharon - for good and for bad - is an important, significant, controversial but always compelling part of our life in this land since the 1950s.
EDITORIAL IN JERUSALEM POST
Even if Sharon fully recovers from his major stroke, there is no way that he will be able to act as prime minister during the next couple of months, and full-time election campaigning is definitely out of the question. The question that remains is not what will happen with Sharon - we all wish him good health - but he is out of the picture at least for the coming elections that will have to be held on time. The question is whether Kadima has a future without Sharon.
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