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Israel: Sharon’s stroke plunges Israel into political turmoil
A life-threatening stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on January 4 has provoked a predictable deluge of hypocritical statements of concern for the fate of a “warrior” turned peacemaker.
Sharon, 77, is morbidly obese, standing at five foot seven and weighing around 260 pounds. A mobile intensive care ambulance has been permanently stationed at his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev Desert, southern Israel. He was taken ill at his ranch on January 4, weeks after suffering a minor stroke on December 18. The latest stroke has caused massive bleeding in his brain, and there are reports that he is at least partially paralysed.
Even if he recovers, his continued leadership of the Kadima party he created after splitting with Likud is in doubt, as is the outcome of the March election it was projected to win. Sharon quit Likud in November. Opposition within its ranks and amongst the right-wing settler and religious parties to his “unilateral withdrawal” from the Gaza Strip in September, combined with the pullout from his coalition government by the Labour Party under its new leader Amir Peretz, had made his own position untenable.
Various world leaders have hailed Sharon—the “Butcher of Beirut”—for his supposed commitment to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. US President George W. Bush called him “a man of courage and peace,” while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he had surprised everyone “with the courage and statesmanship he has shown in recent years to work towards a long term peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
His deteriorating health has produced a temporary truce between his government and most of his warring rivals for power. His leadership powers were transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert, within 30 minutes of his being rushed to hospital. Likud, now led by Sharon’s archrival Binyamin Netanyahu, called off its anticipated break with the government and attended an emergency cabinet meeting alongside their former colleagues, now in Kadima.