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More surgery for Sharon; doctors say his condition has improved

JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent a third round of invasive surgery Friday after more bleeding was discovered in his brain.

While few held out hope that Sharon would be able to return to political life, the latest surgery provided the first positive news since the prime minister was felled by a stroke Wednesday night.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said Sharon had shown significant improvement after the surgery, although the director of Hadassah Hospital warned that the prime minister's condition was still critical. The cerebral bleeding has left the 77-year-old fighting for his life and put his nation's political future in limbo.

Sharon's family, friends and political allies have been keeping a vigil at the hospital, and one of the nation's largest newspapers ran a banner headline Friday that read: "Praying."

"Everybody's concerned," said Sharon aide Raanan Gissin, who visited the hospital again Friday. "The whole people of Israel are concerned. The whole world is concerned. Everybody wants to see him get better."

Israel's leaders have been working to reassure the nation and the world that the government is running despite Sharon's health crisis.

Shimon Peres, a former prime minister, said everyone was rallying around acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and hoping for Sharon's recovery.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a planned trip to Australia and Indonesia in case she needs to travel to Israel for Sharon's funeral. Rice spoke by phone with Olmert on Friday to voice the Bush administration's support.

"She conveyed to the acting prime minister that the American people stand with the Israeli people in what we know is a difficult time and that our thoughts and prayers are with them and with Prime Minister Sharon," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "And she also conveyed our hopes for Prime Minister Sharon's recovery."

Sharon has been hospitalized since Wednesday, when he was rushed from his ranch in southern Israel to the Jerusalem hospital after complaining of chest pains. By the time he reached the hospital, he'd had a serious stroke that required two rounds and more than seven hours of surgery.

Since then, he's been kept in a medically induced coma on a respirator, meant to aid his recovery. Doctors said they wouldn't be able to determine how much damage the stroke had caused until they revived Sharon in the next day or two.

Sharon's political allies have been quietly debating how to prepare for the nation's scheduled March 28 elections. Two snap polls showed Sharon's new centrist party, Kadima, still winning about 40 of the Knesset's 120 seats, giving it the leverage to form a coalition government, presumably with the left-leaning Labor Party.

But Kadima, which Sharon formed only in November after breaking away from his conservative Likud Party, still must set out its philosophy and agree on a new leader. Those discussions can't take place in earnest while the nation watches and waits for news on Sharon's health.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report from Washington.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MIDEAST-SHARON

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060106 Kadima poll

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