Doctors gave Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a battery of neurological tests yesterday to judge whether he was coming out of a coma but Israeli media reports said concern was rising at his failure to regain consciousness. Neurologists at Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital were testing Sharon's responses to pain, sound and other stimuli to see if he was emerging from a coma after suffering a massive stroke on January 4 that left him fighting for his life.
A week into a health crisis that has cast a shadow over Middle East peacemaking, doctors on Thursday reduced sedatives that have kept Sharon, 77, unconscious and removed a brain catheter after a scan showed no need to drain fluids.
But Israeli media reported that doctors were starting to worry about Sharon's failure to open his eyes. He responded to pain stimuli on both sides of his body earlier in the week but apparently has not made any notable progress since then.
"The doctors have said that the pace of the prime minister's responses are very slow and have expressed concern that he has not yet opened his eyes," the NRG news Web site reported.
A Hadassah spokeswoman declined comment on the reports. Yesterday's hospital bulletin later said: "There is no change in the prime minister's condition." He had been listed as critical but stable.
Even if Sharon regains consciousness, it could be days before doctors can assess the impairment to his faculties. With his hospital stay expected to last months, Sharon is given little chance of returning to public life.
Meanwhile, Israel plunged back into politics as parties began holding primary elections to select candidates for a March 28 general election. Opinion polls continued to predict victory for Sharon's centrist Kadima party.