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Israel’s Sharon goes home after mild stroke

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday after a mild stroke.
/ Source: news services

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the hospital on Tuesday after suffering a mild stroke and said he was in a hurry to get back to work.

Sharon said he did not think the stroke had affected his performance.

“I have to hurry back to work,” Sharon told reporters as he left Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

Sharon was rushed to the hospital on Sunday evening after showing signs of confused speech. Doctors said he suffered a mild stroke that left no damage, and he was unlikely to have another one.

Sharon's condition quickly improved and he never lost consciousness and was talking and joking with his family hours after arriving at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, doctors said. He was treated with blood thinners and suffered no damage from the stroke, said his personal physician, Boleslaw Goldman.

Sharon, 77 and very overweight, has been a fixture of Israeli politics for more than three decades. His illness came a little more than three months before he was to lead his new Kadima Party into national elections, and his illness could hamper his efforts to finish building the nascent centrist faction, which has a commanding lead in the polls.

The stroke was almost certain to make Sharon’s health a major campaign issue, but it would have little immediate effect on Israeli policy or peace efforts since no major decisions were expected during the campaign.

‘I’m fine,’ Sharon says
“I’m fine,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Sharon as saying late Sunday. “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 Hebrew.

Sharon received get-well messages from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.S. envoy Elliot Abrams, who was speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, spokesman Ranan Gissin said.

However, in Gaza, dozens of armed men from the Popular Resistance Committees, a small Palestinian militant group, fired guns in the air, screamed “Sharon is dead!” and handed out pastries to motorists in celebration of the news that Sharon was ill.

GAZA CITY, GAZA - DECEMBER 18: A masked Palestinian fighter from The Popular Resistance Committees distributes sweets to drivers as he celebrates after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital December 18, 2005, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. A Hadassah hospital spokesman said that the 77-year-old Sharon suffered a minor stroke but is now conscious and his condition is improving. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)Abid Katib / Getty Images Europe

Palestinian militants view Sharon, who led Israel’s fight against the five-year Palestinian uprising, as a hated enemy despite his pullout from the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

If Sharon were ever incapacitated, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, a close ally, would take over the day-to-day running of the government.

Sharon, a former army general, was elected prime minister in 2001, months after the beginning of nearly five years of Israel-Palestinian violence. Sharon led the Israeli crackdown on the Palestinian uprising and was vilified by many Palestinians.

Then he led Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip last summer after 38 years of occupation.

Following the Gaza pullout, Sharon threw the Israeli political map into disarray while preparing to run for a third term in office in March 28 elections.

Split from Likud
Sharon split from the Likud Party, which he helped found three decades ago, saying it had become too extreme. A group of hard-line Likud lawmakers bitterly fought against Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan. They lost the battle, but Sharon determined that he could no longer lead the party.

Polls show that Sharon’s new party — which includes more than a dozen former Likud lawmakers — would finish far ahead of other parties, all but guaranteeing he would form the next government and remain prime minister for a third term.

However, Kadima is built around Sharon, and if he were to fall ill, it almost certainly would suffer a blow in the polls.

Sharon’s health and age have always lurked in the background of his term as prime minister. The ex-army general has never released his medical records but has insisted in recent years that he is not suffering from any serious ailments.

High risk of full-blown stroke
Mini-strokes are rarely of major consequence by themselves, but they signal a high risk that a person will suffer a full-blown stroke in the coming months: one in seven within a year, according to the American Heart Association.

Mini-strokes — medically known as transcient ischemic attacks, or TIAs — are caused by a blood clot that forms anywhere in the body and lodges in a vessel in the head, depriving a region of the brain of blood and oxygen.

Sharon has been one of the most charismatic and controversial figures in Israel during a public career that has spanned more than half a century.

He fought in most of Israel’s wars, gaining a reputation as a military genius known for daring tactics and sometimes disobeying orders. But his reputation as an Israeli war hero was tarnished by a massacre of Palestinian refugees in the early 1980s, when he was defense minister.

An Israeli commission rejected Sharon’s contention that he knew nothing about the massacre and found him indirectly responsible, costing him his job as defense minister.

He rejected that finding and stayed in the government as a minister without portfolio. Sharon gradually rehabilitated himself, serving in parliament and holding a variety of Cabinet posts through the 1980s and 1990s.

He became known as “the bulldozer,” never shy of confrontation, a man who could get things done, but who showed little regard for the opinions of his critics.