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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 22:23 GMT
Sharon faces 'months of recovery'
Schoolchildren visit the hospital where Mr Sharon is being treated
Israeli schoolchildren visit the hospital to wish Mr Sharon well
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could take months to recuperate from the massive stroke he suffered a week ago, one of his surgeons has said.

Dr Jose Cohen told Israeli television in a lengthy interview that Mr Sharon's life was still very much in danger.

Earlier, doctors said he had improved slightly, with some movement in both sides of his body, though he remained in a critical but stable condition.

Mr Sharon is now on a low dose of the sedatives that have kept him in a coma.

Once he has been fully weaned off the medication, doctors can further assess the extent of any neurological damage.

There were signs on Wednesday that the country's political system was starting to get back to normal, ahead of elections scheduled for late March.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the party's four remaining cabinet ministers to resign from the government on Thursday, a long-planned move that was put off after Mr Sharon fell ill.

Earlier, Labour declared its election campaign was up and running as opinion polls showed Mr Sharon's new political party Kadima would still win the election even if he was not at the helm.

'Still in danger'

Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital said on Wednesday that Mr Sharon had shown "additional improvement as seen through the different neurological tests carried out by his doctors".

ARIEL SHARON'S HEALTH
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

Chief surgeon Felix Umansky described how the prime minister appeared to react to words from his son Gilad.

"His blood pressure rose immediately," he told Israeli television.

But, in his first interview since Mr Sharon was rushed to hospital last Wednesday, Dr Cohen warned against being too optimistic.

"The prime minister's life is still in danger. He suffered a serious stroke, period," he told Channel One television.

"Until we have passed a few more stages we are still very cautious. We know that every day, although we are getting further out of danger, we are still in danger."

He went on: "Do not think of this in terms of days, or in terms of weeks. This will take a long time."

When asked if that meant months of recuperation, he said: "Yes, yes, months."

This would appear to rule out the possibility of Mr Sharon leading Kadima into the elections, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Jerusalem.

Cognitive response tests

In his interview, Dr Cohen also described how close Mr Sharon was to dying when he first arrived at hospital a week ago.

They had to operate immediately to save his life, he said.

Once Mr Sharon has been fully weaned off the sedatives, medics will test his cognitive responses and pass their assessment of brain damage to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.

If the assessment declares that Mr Sharon has been permanently incapacitated and is unable to return to office, a cabinet meeting will be called to choose a caretaker leader to be prime minister until the general election on 28 March.




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