Israel preparing for death of seriously ill Ariel Sharon
Israel was preparing for the death of Ariel Sharon, its hawkish former prime minister, after a sudden deterioration in his health prompted doctors to acknowledge that his life was in imminent danger.
Mr Sharon (85), who has been in a coma since suffering a massive stroke eight years ago, was described as critical after his kidneys and several other vital organs malfunctioned, apparently due to an infection.
His two sons, Gilad and Omri, were keeping vigil at his bedside at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Hashomer Hospital, near Tel Aviv, as Israeli officials said plans were in hand to stage a state funeral for one of the most controversial figures in the Jewish state's 65-year history.
"He is in critical condition and his life is definitely in danger," Dr Zeev Rotstein, the hospital's director, told reporters. "I am no prophet, but the feeling of the doctors treating him and also that of the family with him is that there is a turn for the worse."
The elaborate arrangements required for a state funeral would enable the suspension of the usually strict Jewish religious edict requiring the dead to be buried within a day, said Mark Regev, spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli premier. That would allow world leaders more time to attend.
"Jewish law is very strict on the day-after rule but it is possible to be flexible on this issue," Mr Regev said.
Mr Sharon is understood to have suffered kidney failure in recent days. He was not expected to undergo dialysis because of his fragile physical state but was instead receiving antibiotics.
Medical experts suggested the problem had been caused by an infection, which had spread to other organs, making survival chances slim.
"If there was a problem in just one organ, it would be a different story, but he is suffering problems in a number of organs," said Dr Rotstein.
"Arik (Mr Sharon's nickname) is a very strong man; he has come out of difficult situations during the period that he has been in our hospital. However, everyone feels that this deterioration is very serious. We have no way of knowing how much time he has left."
Mr Sharon's sudden decline coincided with the arrival in Israel of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, for his 10th visit in the 10 months aimed at keeping alive a stuttering peace talks with the Palestinians.
Mr Kerry was due to embark on an intensive round of discussions with Mr Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, that American officials hoped could produce a framework agreement paving the way towards a comprehensive settlement of the historic conflict. (© Daily Telegraph, London)