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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006, 21:43 GMT
Israeli PM to be woken from coma
Ariel Sharon in a 2002 file photo
Sharon's surgeon says he will not be able to return to office
Doctors treating Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will start bringing him out of an induced coma on Monday, if he remains stable overnight.

Experts say the anaesthetic being given to Mr Sharon since a major stroke on Wednesday will be slowly reduced.

Hadassah Hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef said a brain scan on Sunday showed improvement, with swelling down and pressure in his skull normal.

Once Mr Sharon is out of the coma the extent of brain damage can be assessed.

Speaking after holding his first full cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed hope that Mr Sharon would recover:

They will inform us the moment they wake him up from the sedation and they will know what systems were damaged and what his situation is
Jacob Galanti
Justice ministry spokesman
"I pray with all the people of Israel that my tenure as acting prime minister will be short, so soon enough we will be able to see again the leader of Israel," Mr Olmert said.

But the neurosurgeon who operated on the 77-year-old prime minister, Jose Cohen, said that although his chances of survival were "very high", Mr Sharon will not be able to continue as prime minister.

Democracy 'functioning'

Once Mr Sharon is out of the coma, induced to allow him to rest and heal, his doctors will begin assessing the extent his brain has been damaged and what his chances are of making a meaningful recovery.

The medics will then pass their assessment of brain damage to Attorney General Meni Mazuz.

"They will inform us the moment they wake him up from the sedation and they will know what systems were damaged and what his situation is," justice ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti said.

Sharon suffers minor stroke on 18 December 2005
Doctors discover small hole in heart, schedule operation for 5 January
Sharon rushed to hospital one day before scheduled surgery with major stroke
Undergoes two operations overnight on 4/5 January, followed by third on 6 January

As Mr Sharon lay sedated, Mr Olmert chaired his first full cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.

Seated beside Mr Sharon's empty chair, Mr Olmert said Israel would weather the crisis.

"Israel's democracy is strong and its institutions are functioning seriously and as they should," he said.

"If I could talk to him [Mr Sharon] today, I am sure Arik would tell me: 'Thanks for your wishes, but you must work to safeguard the safety and economy of Israel' and that is what we will do."

'Great leader'

One of Mr Olmert's first decisions will be whether to allow Palestinians in east Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian elections on 25 January.

Israeli police have already told Palestinian candidates planning to campaign there they can do so, reports say.

Sharon has the support of the Israeli peace camp and world leaders for his brave commitment to peace
Simon G, Ra'anana, Israel

The Palestinian Authority has threatened to cancel the poll if Israel refuses.

Israel's general election is to go ahead as planned on 28 March.

On Sunday, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Mr Sharon saying: "History will judge him as the great leader that he is."

Mr Netanyahu, who has taken over as leader of Likud following Mr Sharon's decision to quit the party late last year, is one of the main contenders in the election.

As head of the recently formed Kadima (Forward) party, Mr Sharon had been expected to win by a wide margin.

Hear the statement by Ariel Sharon's doctors

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