Ariel Sharon underwent emergency surgery yesterday after a brain scan revealed a rise in intracranial pressure and further bleeding in his brain, and outside experts said the prime minister's prognosis was not good.
Sharon's blood pressure also rose and one of his brain ventricles expanded slightly, said Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Hadassah Hospital, where Sharon is being treated. Sharon's aides, who had rushed to the hospital to be with him during his second surgery in two days, grimly huddled outside.
"It was decided to bring the prime minister to the operating room in order to deal with these two issues, to drain the bleeding and to decrease the intracranial pressure," Mor-Yosef said.
Shimon Peres, Israel's elder statesman and a Sharon ally, said he was "very worried."
Sharon's illness threw his peace plans into turmoil and stunned Israelis, who were grappling with the likelihood that the man who dominated politics in the regions for decades would never return to power. "Between hope and despair," read the banner headline in the Maariv daily.
The surgery yesterday followed a seven-hour operation Sharon underwent on Thursday morning after he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Doctors had put him in a medically induced coma to give his body time to heal, but most outside experts said his chances for recovery were slim.
Aides to Sharon said they were working on the assumption he would not return to work.
Yonathan Halevy, a senior doctor at Jerusalem's Shaarei Zedek Hospital who is not treating Sharon, said he was "very, very worried" about the Israeli leader's condition.
"The fact that the bleeding has resumed is a sign of a significant deterioration," he told Israel TV.
Outside experts said bleeding from the stroke may have led to interference of the drainage of the cerebral spinal fluid that bathes the brain, or he may have developed inflammation and fluid leakage within the substance of the brain.
Yesterday morning, doctors sent him back for a brain scan to monitor his condition. After the scan, he was rushed back into the operating room, Mor-Yosef said.
Sharon's sons, Omri and Gilad, were camped out in a room next door to their father's at the neurological intensive care unit.
Sharon's supporters prayed for his recovery. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar advised Israelis of which psalms to read as part of their prayer's for Sharon.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall, said he received dozens of e-mails praying for Sharon's health that he printed out and stuck in the cracks of the holy site. Callers from Venezuela and the US asked for advice in praying for Sharon, he said.
Svetlana Kremitsky, a hospital worker who brings food to the patients in Sharon's ward, said the hospital was filled with worry.
"You can feel it in the air, we're all concerned," she said.
Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, has taken the reins as acting prime minister. Leaders of Sharon's new Kadima Party said they would rally around Olmert.
A new poll released yesterday showed the party would still sweep March elections, even without Sharon, who formed the party after bolting his Likud Party last year to free his hands to make further peace moves with the Palestinians.
The poll published in the Yediot Ahronot daily yesterday found that an Olmert-headed Kadima would win 39 of 120 parliament seats, the most of any party and slightly less than the party polled under Sharon.