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Preparing For Life After Sharon

As Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon clings to life in a Jerusalem hospital, anxiety abounds throughout the city over the direction of the Middle East peace process.

Though Sharon showed "significant improvement" after five hours of emergency brain surgery Friday, he is still in serious condition and doctors said he would be kept in a medically-induced coma for at least two more days. Sharon underwent a planned brain scan Saturday.

Despite Sharon's progress, his days as Israel's leader are likely over.

Sharon's chief surgeon said it was too early to assess the damage the prime minister suffered after two surgeries to stop brain hemorrhaging in as many days, but independent medical experts said the prognosis appeared dire.

The same could be said of the prospects for peace if Sharon dies, CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports.

Last summer, in an effort to make Israelis more secure, Sharon ordered the eviction of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. The move made Sharon a demon in the eyes of settlers who once revered him as
a military leader.

"As a politician, as prime minister, he has done more to damage the security of the state of Israel than Yasser Arafat, Hamas and Hezbollah put together," evicted Gaza settler Moshe Saperstein says of Sharon.

And while some Arab newspapers described Sharon as a butcher and war criminal, some Palestinians expressed concern that life in the region would worsen if he died. How ever much Palestinians despised Sharon, Pizzey says, he represented possibly the only person


"Actually I'm more worried about the peace process, more than ever, because of the fact of, that they was going to give back land," Palestinian Raad Nasser says. "And now, only God knows what is going to happen."

Palestinian leaders, holding a parliamentary election of their own Jan. 25, said they were in touch with Israeli officials about Sharon's condition. "We are closely monitoring the situation," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

The White House declined to speculate on how Sharon's illness could affect the peace process.

"The United States view of the Middle East is that the desire for progress and peace runs wide and deep," spokesman Trent Duffy said. "The president continues to pray for the recovery of Prime Minister Sharon."

Sharon's illness froze politics across the region, and its repercussions were felt around the world. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a six-day trip to Indonesia and Australia because of Sharon's struggle to survive.

Sharon's aides held a grim vigil at the hospital and Israeli elder statesmen Shimon Peres said he is "very worried" about his old friend.

Rice called acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday. "Every U.S. citizen, from the President to the last citizen are praying for Sharon's health," Rice said, according to Olmert's office.

"Despite the difficult situation, this evening Israeli citizens have a little more hope," Olmert told her.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also called Olmert on Friday to wish Sharon a speedy recovery, said Olmert's spokeswoman, Haya Perry.

Sharon was rushed into the operating room Friday morning after a brain scan indicated rising cranial pressure and further brain hemorrhaging.

Hadassah Hospital director Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said the new surgery Friday helped stabilize Sharon's condition. "Part of the blood clots that remained after the first operation were drained," he said. "At the end of the operation, there is no active bleeding and the intracranial pressure has returned to normal."

Mor-Yosef said a comparison of brain scans before and after the surgery showed "significant improvement," but he did not elaborate.

The chief neurosurgeon operating on Sharon, Dr. Felix Umansky, said he came through the surgery well, but was likely to have suffered damage.

"There is always some damage when you have cerebral hemorrhage," he said in a telephone interview. "We cannot assess the damage because he is under anesthesia all the time. We need to wait and see what will happen once we reduce the medication which keeps him under sedation."

Sharon's stroke threw Israeli politics into flux less than three months before national elections. Israeli officials said the elections would proceed as scheduled regardless of Sharon's fate.

Leaders of Sharon's new Kadima Party said they would rally around Olmert.

A new poll released Friday showed the party would still sweep the vote, even without Sharon, who formed the centrist party after bolting the hardline Likud last year following his withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The poll published in the Yediot Ahronot daily Friday found that an Olmert-headed Kadima would win 39 of 120 parliament seats, slightly less than the party polled under Sharon, but enough to lead the next government.

The poll of 500 people was taken Thursday and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. Some pollsters said the results might be influenced by sympathy for Sharon, and could change during the campaign.

The poll showed Peres would net 42 seats as Kadima leader, but analysts said it was unlikely he would be chosen to lead the party. Peres met with Olmert on Friday, but did not give details of their talk.

"We will know how to continue Israel's policy ... to continue Ariel Sharon's policies," Peres said.

Sharon rose to prominence as a legendary army officer, and later entered politics in Likud. As defense minister, Sharon directed Israel's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was forced to step down after being found indirectly responsible for a massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian Phalangist soldiers.

He re-emerged as prime minister in 2001 after the outbreak of new Israeli-Palestinian violence, and four years later he reversed his long support for Jewish settlement and pulled Israel out of Gaza.