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Sharon Stable, Israel Uneasy

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was in stable condition Friday morning in a medically-induced coma to prevent further damage from a massive stroke.

Doctors performed a brain scan to check for bleeding and said they could keep Sharon sedated and on a respirator for several more days to give him a chance to recover.

"The logical scenario is that we won't even try to wake him up before Sunday," said Dr. Shmuel Shapira, deputy director of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital where Sharon is being treated.

"This sedation has very important significance. The goal of the sedation is to lower the oxygen needs of the brain and to allow the brain ... to rest. So certainly until Sunday, and it's possible beyond that, he will be sedated."

Sharon's cranial pressure was steady, meaning there is no need to drain fluid from his brain, Hadassah Hospital Director Shlomo Mor-Yosef said during a Friday morning press briefing.

"The night passed without change," he said. "All the parameters that we check: blood pressure, pulse, urine output and cranial pressure, the most important parameters, all these parameters are stable."

On Thursday, as Sharon's sons began a bedside vigil and state media broadcast mournful songs, the hospital's switchboard was flooded with get-well messages. The nation's top rabbis called on Israelis to rush to synagogues and pray for the 77-year-old ex-general, whom many saw as the best hope for peace with the Palestinians.

Sharon's severe illness in the middle of political campaigns – both in Israel and the Palestinian territories – will further complicate Middle East peacemaking efforts, reports CBS News correspondent David Hawkins.

Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, tried to convey a sense of stability while serving as acting prime minister, but Sharon's dramatic downturn left Israelis fearful.

60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon says the mood in Tel Aviv is dismal.

"It's a nation in mourning. The radio is playing sad songs, television is non-stop coverage. It's mourning and it's shock, and it's very comparable to my mind to the death of [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin 10 years ago," Simon said.

The Web site of the respected Haaretz daily quoted hospital officials as saying Sharon suffered vast brain damage.

Deputy hospital director Shmuel Shapira told Army Radio that reports of permanent, significant damage were "irresponsible."

Mor-Yosef on Thursday sought to quash widespread rumors that the prime minister was brain-dead. Sharon's pupils were responding to light, "which means the brain is functioning," he told reporters.

"We are fighting for the life of the prime minister, with no compromise," he said. "The main treatment that the prime minister is receiving is a medically induced coma and breathing assistance. The goal of this treatment is ... to allow the brain to recover from the great trauma it suffered."

Dr. Zeev Feldman, a neurosurgeon at Israel's Tel Hashomer Hospital who is not involved in Sharon's treatment, said the test results appeared encouraging.

"I think this is good news. This information that the prime minister is reacting and they got reactions from him to stimulation is really a situation that can show that he is waking up after the operation," Feldman told Channel 2. "This is the first time that we have a positive indications regarding his condition."

However, other neurosurgeons not involved in Sharon's treatment said a full recovery was unlikely after such a massive stroke. Sharon aides said they assume he would not return to work."

I'm worried about the future of this country, about everything in this country," said Rafael Levy, a 42-year-old construction engineer from Tel Aviv.

Sharon underwent seven hours of surgery Thursday at Hadassah Hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He will remain sedated and on a respirator for two to three days to give him time to recover, and then he will be gradually awakened, hospital officials said. His sons, Omri and Gilad, were by his side at the neurological intensive care unit.

Sharon's collapse less than three months before March 28 elections left in limbo his moderate Kadima Party, which had appeared headed for an easy victory.

Palestinians reacted with a mixture of glee at seeing the fall of their longtime enemy and apprehension at the instability that could follow. Some Palestinian leaders worried Sharon's illness could derail their Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. "We are watching with great worry at what might happen if he is harmed," Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying that he hoped for Sharon's death. "Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Chatilla has joined his ancestors is final," he said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

And in the United States, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested that Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."

Foreign leaders, who embraced Sharon after his unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip last year, also expressed concern.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Sharon as "a man of enormous courage," and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was praying for a miraculous recovery. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi postponed a visit to the region, and two U.S. envoys who were to arrive Thursday delayed their trip.

Under Israeli law, vice premier Olmert took office as acting prime minister. He held an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday, sitting beside Sharon's empty seat, and said the government would continue to function.

"This is a difficult situation," Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor, told the ministers.

He later spoke with Abbas by telephone. The Palestinian leader expressed concern for Sharon and wished him a speedy recovery, Palestinian officials said.

Attorney General Meni Mazuz announced that the Israeli election would be held as planned. Sharon was to face off against the new head of his former Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz.

Sharon had been expected to win in a landslide as head of Kadima, which he formed after bolting Likud late last year. Many Likud lawmakers tried to torpedo the Gaza withdrawal and Sharon formed Kadima to free his hands to make further peace moves with the Palestinians.

His stroke clouded his party's prospects.

"I can't see another person who will emerge who is as strong as Sharon," said political analyst Menachem Hofnung. "The party is in trouble."

Haim Ramon, a Kadima lawmaker, said the party needed to rally around Olmert.

"We have to convince the public that the group that came together with Sharon will fill the political, ideological, societal void, which is needed for the country to go on," he told Channel 2.

A snap poll Thursday showed an Olmert-led Kadima would still win 40 of 120 seats, similar to the results under Sharon. Under former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the party would get 42 seats, according to the Channel 10-Haaretz poll. The number of people polled and the margin of error were not given.