Sharon slowly recovers

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon showed new signs of recovery Tuesday from a massive stroke, moving part of his left side as doctors gradually reduced the anesthesia keeping him in a coma.

The reported improvement came a day after Sharon slightly moved his right arm and leg in response to pain stimulation and started breathing on his own. Sharon, 77, remained hooked up to a respirator and unconscious in a guarded room where classical music, including Mozart, is being played.

Israelis were breathing a collective sigh of relief now that doctors say Sharon has a good chance to survive, but they're concerned that Sharon may be paralyzed and his ability to think may be impaired. It's hard for Israelis to come to terms with the tough former general and war hero and energetic prime minister confined to a wheelchair.

Also, an Israeli newspaper reported that Sharon was suffering from a brain disease that, in combination with the blood thinners he started taking after an initial stroke Dec. 18, could have increased his risk for another stroke. Doctors refused to comment.

Doctors said it would be days before they could assess the damage to Sharon's brain from the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered Wednesday. A final medical analysis on Sharon's long-term prognosis would end days of uncertainty over the fate of the prime minister, heralded by many as the best hope for Mideast peace.

On that front, Israel's defense minister said Israel will permit Arabs in Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian elections scheduled for Jan. 25. The decision appeared to resolve a standoff that had threatened to derail the balloting and heighten frictions between Israel and the Palestinians at this sensitive time.

The issue was widely seen as a key test for acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Polls show that the 60-year-old Olmert has a good chance to win elections in March.

But Berger points out Olmert will be facing with another smart and savvy politician, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What Olmert has going for him is that he is the right-hand man of the popular Sharon.

Olmert's first diplomatic test as acting prime minister was whether to let Palestinians vote in east Jerusalem in parliamentary elections.

Israel had been threatening to prevent voting in Jerusalem because it was reluctant to be seen as granting any kind of legitimacy to the Islamic group Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction and is running in the balloting.

But on Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Arab residents of Jerusalem could vote.

Because of the city's symbolic importance, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had threatened to call off the elections if Israel banned east Jerusalem voting.

Sharon's doctors put him in a coma to give him time to heal from the recent stroke and three subsequent brain operations. They began weaning Sharon from the sedatives Monday. Despite Sharon's reported movement, doctors doubt he will recover enough to resume his duties because the bleeding in his brain was extensive.

Meanwhile, the Haaretz daily said Sharon was suffering from a brain disease called cerebral amyloid angiopathy. If doctors had known about the condition earlier, they would not have prescribed the blood thinners, the paper said, quoting an unidentified member of Sharon's medical team, the AP reports.


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