JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive, life-threatening stroke Wednesday and underwent lengthy surgery to drain blood from his brain after falling ill at his ranch. Powers were transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert.
Doctors placed Sharon on a respirator and were trying to save his life only hours before the hard-charging, overweight, 77-year-old Israeli leader had been scheduled to undergo a procedure to seal a hole in his heart that contributed to a mild stroke on Dec. 18.
Sharon's cerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding stroke, came at a time of upheaval among Palestinian factions in Gaza and in the midst of both Israeli and Palestinian election campaigns.
Sharon's absence would halt momentum toward further peacemaking with the Palestinians and leave a major vacuum at the head of his new Kadima party, which was expected to head a government after the March 28 vote.
In a written statement, President Bush praised Sharon as "a man of courage and peace," saying he and first lady Laura Bush "share the concerns of the Israeli people ... and we are praying for his recovery."
Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called on Israelis to read Psalms and pray for Sharon. "We are very, very worried," he said, and prayed for "mercy from Heaven."
My prayers go out to Sharon and his family and to all of Israel at this time.