Israeli leader released from hospital

December 21, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Two days after suffering a minor stroke, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was released yesterday from a Jerusalem hospital and said he was eager to get back on the job.

Smiling broadly but looking somewhat drawn, Sharon told reporters as he left Hadassah University Medical Center that the stroke would not impair his performance. In brief remarks, he thanked doctors and said he was moved by concern expressed by Israelis.

"Now I must hurry to get back to work and move forward," Sharon said.

Aides said Sharon would rest at home for a few days and ease his way back to what they described as an 18- to 20-hour daily schedule. They said he could take his place at the head of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"He will get gradually into his workload," said spokesman Raanan Gissin.

Sharon was hospitalized Sunday night after complaining that he didn't feel well. Doctors found he had suffered a minor stroke caused by a blood clot blocking blood to the brain. But the episode appeared to have caused no lasting damage and did not indicate a more serious health condition, they said.

Sharon telephoned former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday to offer his congratulations to the former Cabinet member for winning election Monday as the new leader of Sharon's former party, Likud.

Sharon left the party last month to form the centrist movement, Kadima, after growing frustrated by a faction of right-wing critics in Likud that included Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu served as finance minister under Sharon before quitting to protest Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer, the men are bitter rivals.

The two will lead their parties in national elections, set for March 28, to pick a prime minister and parliament. The other main contender is the center-left Labor Party, led by Amir Peretz, who until recently headed Israel's largest labor federation.

Netanyahu, who left a mixed legacy as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 but won considerable praise for economic reforms while finance minister, faces a daunting landscape. Likud has tumbled in opinion polls since Sharon bolted and took with him more than a dozen moderate Cabinet ministers and lawmakers. The exodus knocked Likud off balance, and the relatively low turnout in Monday's primary was a sign that it has not recovered.

There was little sign, meanwhile, that Sharon's stroke is harming his election prospects. Two fresh newspaper polls had Kadima maintaining a big lead over Labor and Likud. A survey in the daily Maariv, for example, showed Sharon's party capturing three more parliament seats than last week, or 42 of 120 seats. That poll gave Labor 22 seats and Likud 13.

Nearly three in four respondents said Sharon's illness would make no difference in how they would vote.

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