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Olmert set to remain Israeli PM until election

Ehud Olmert will remain Israel’s interim prime minister until a March 28 general election, barring a change in the condition of the comatose Ariel Sharon, political sources said on Sunday.
/ Source: Reuters

Ehud Olmert will remain Israel’s interim prime minister until a March 28 general election, barring a change in the condition of the comatose Ariel Sharon, political sources said on Sunday.

They said Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz planned to declare later in the day that Sharon, who suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4, was in a state of “protracted temporary incapacitation,” effectively extending Olmert’s tenure as his replacement.

In further consolidation of his potential power, Olmert this week was expected to be named chairman of the centrist Kadima Party, which Sharon formed after quitting the rightist Likud last year to push for peace with the Palestinians.

Opinion polls predict an easy win in the election for Kadima under Olmert, 60, who served as deputy prime minister under Sharon and is also finance minister.

Israeli political sources said Mazuz was forced to define Sharon’s incapacitation temporary for lack of information from doctors who have been trying to rouse him out of a coma induced with sedatives to prevent his brain from swelling after surgery.

Though medical tests over the weekend showed activity in both sides of Sharon’s brain, doctors reported no signs he was coming around. Sharon responded to pain stimuli on both sides of his body last week, but has not made notable progress since.

Were Sharon to die or be declared permanently incapacitated, the Israeli cabinet would convene to choose an acting premier from among Olmert and other designated Kadima deputy prime ministers.

Palestinian election coming up
The resignations of three cabinet members from the Likud who quit last week under orders from party leader Benjamin Netanyahu come into effect on Sunday. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom of the Likud leaves the cabinet on Monday.

The resignations will have no direct impact on the viability of the caretaker government since Olmert can appoint new ministers to serve until the March 28 ballot.

Palestinians are gearing up for their own parliamentary elections on Jan. 25, but have warned Israel against measures that would disrupt the vote.

Olmert has agreed to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, to cast ballots in the city at five polling stations to be set up in post offices, a source in the prime minister’s office said.

Israel’s cabinet is due to approve the recommendation on Sunday, but will not allow the Hamas militant group on ballots.

Sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel and gained a strong political footing among Palestinians with an anti-corruption platform.

Palestinians hope to name East Jerusalem the capital of a future state. Israel views the entire city as its capital.