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SHARON SHOWS HOPEFUL SIGNS

Ailing Prime Ministers Eyes Open Briefly On Hearing Recorded Voice Of Grandson

Kadima Council Appoints Olmert To Replace Sharon As Party Leader

Kadima Minister Sheetrit: 'Israel's Refusal To Allow Palestinians In Eastern Jerusalem To Vote, Would Have Been A Disaster'

In a coma at Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, Ariel Sharon briefly opened his eyes on hearing his grandson's voice. But his team of doctors later said this could have been a reflex and the ailing Prime Minister remains in a serious but stable condition. Over in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, the ruling council of Sharon's Kadima party met for the first time without the Prime Minister. It appointed Acting PM Ehud Olmert to replace the incapacitated Sharon.

Ariel Sharon briefly opened his eyes on hearing the recorded voice of his grandson. However, Hadassah hospital doctors say it might have been only a reflex and there is still no overall change.

The news spread like wildfire across the country. But the latest medical bulletin cautioned that the ailing Prime Minister is still in serious but stable condition as he remains in a coma. Earlier in the Knesset, the council of his new party Kadima was meeting for the first time without Sharon. Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit, who followed Sharon from the Likud, called it a sad session: 'We felt like orphans, but Ariel Sharon would want us to do our duty and govern the country'. The council appointed Acting PM Ehud Olmert to replace Sharon as party leader. Olmert warned that the defense and police forces have been given orders to crack down on the young Jewish extremists who have been rioting in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The other hot potato on the government's plate is the upcoming Palestinian election. The Likud opposition has hauled the cabinet over the coals for letting Palestinians in Israeli controlled eastern Jerusalem vote in the Palestinian election on January 25th. The Likud charges Ariel Sharon would have said no, and Ehud Olmert is jeopardizing Israel's capital. Sheetrit argued: 'If we barred East Jerusalemites from voting, the Palestinians would call off the election and blame Israel. That would be a political disaster'.

On the other side of the House, the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu takes over as Opposition leader. Although the Knesset is not in session, Netanyahu can be expected to stir up the situation after he ordered Likud cabinet ministers to resign. Meanwhile, Labor is set to hold its primaries on January 17th.

David Essing

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