Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon joked with aides and discussed affairs of state yesterday after suffering a mild stroke, but his illness raised questions about his ability to lead the country if elected to a third term in March elections.
It also left his brand-new centrist Kadima Party scrambling. Without the 77-year-old Sharon, Kadima wouldn't likely amount to much, as the prime minister's popularity is the overriding factor behind the party's commanding lead in polls. With balloting three months away, concerns about his health could become a focus of the campaign, and improve the prospects of the hardline Likud Party that he quit to form Kadima.
However, his doctors said yesterday that Sharon does not have any major health problems and will be released from the hospital today.
Sharon never lost consciousness and the stroke caused no damage to the prime minister, Dr Tamir Ben-Hur said.
Likud voters went to the polls yesterday to choose a replacement for Sharon as party leader. Polls gave former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a slight edge over Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and results were expected around midnight yesterday.
Sharon underwent additional tests yesterday after being rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on Sunday night, showing signs of confused speech. Israeli media reported that he was unable to tell time or count fingers when he underwent preliminary neurological tests at the hospital, but doctors later said he improved quickly.
Sharon was treated with blood thinners and suffered no damage from the stroke, said his personal doctor, Boleslaw Goldman.
Hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy said doctors ran more tests yesterday and decided Sharon should also undergo brain and full body scans, procedures she described as routine.
Sharon held his daily staff meeting in the hospital, said aide Asaf Shariv.
"He asked questions, he received an update from the military secretary and from the Cabinet secretary. He's in good spirits," Shariv told Army Radio.
Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon told Army Radio that Sharon walked around his room and showered by himself.
The Web site of the Haaretz daily reported that one of its reporters spoke to Sharon late on Sunday night.
"I'm fine," Haaretz quoted Sharon as saying. "Apparently I should have taken a few days off for vacation. But we're continuing to move forward," he said, making a play on the name of his party, Kadima, which means "forward."
In other news, the Israeli air force resumed air strikes against rocket- and mortar-launching sites in Gaza yesterday, carrying out two attacks after striking 11 times overnight, the military said. The attacks came after Palestinians fired a rocket that exploded near a power plant outside the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Two Palestinian paramedics were slightly hurt by flying glass, but no Israeli injuries were reported.
Palestinian security officials said the Israeli missile attacks cut all roads between part of northern Gaza and the rest of the seaside territory. The Israeli military said the goal was to cut access roads used by militants to reach the border fence and fire their rockets.