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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Aired December 18, 2005 - 13:51 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Breaking news out of Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister, 77-year- old Ariel Sharon, has been rushed to a Jerusalem hospital, the Hadassah Medical Center, apparently, apparently suffering from a minor stroke. The 77-year-old prime minister taken into the hospital, we're told, on a stretcher, where doctors and nurses are working with him right now.
John Vause is in our Jerusalem bureau. He is joining us now live with more. Israel media reporting lots of details, John. Let's carefully, precisely try to put together what we know.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. What we know at this stage is that Ariel Sharon was working at his office here in Jerusalem within a few hours ago. He headed home to his ranch in the Negev. As he was heading home, he reached the village of Abu Ghosh, just outside Jerusalem, about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem. He began feeling ill. He felt weak. His convoy turned around, headed to Hadassah hospital.
By the time they reached hospital, there are reports that Ariel Sharon was, in fact, unconscious, that he was wheeled into that hospital.
We do not have that confirmed, that he was, in fact, unconscious when he reached the hospital. What we do know at this stage from Hadassah hospital is that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, right now is conscious, and that the deputy director of the hospital says it's too early to say whether or not Ariel Sharon did in fact suffer a minor stroke. They say tests are ongoing right now with the 77-year-old prime minister, but this issue of Ariel Sharon's health has been a major one here in Israeli politics for quite sometime. He is 77, he is considerably overweight, he has never released his medical records. But he has insisted over the last couple of years that he has no major medical problems, Wolf.
BLITZER: Have we heard, John Vause, from a spokesman or a spokeswoman, from Hadassah, from the hospital in Jerusalem, with any specific details, or is all of this basically coming from Israeli television reports, Israeli media?
VAUSE: Wolf, the only thing we have from the Hadassah hospital is coming from the deputy director of Hadassah hospital, who tells CNN right now that Ariel Sharon is conscious, and that tests are being performed on the 77-year-old prime minister. But at this stage, it is simply too early to tell precisely what the problem, what the medical problem was. Whether or not it was, in fact, a minor stroke, as is being reported by Israeli media right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: It is Sunday in Israel, which is the first day of the week there. I assume he went through his regular day schedule. And as you point out, at the end of the day, he was getting ready to drive from Jerusalem down to his ranch in the Negev desert. Were there any signs earlier in the day, based on anything you have seen or other reporters have seen, that he was not feeling well?
VAUSE: Nothing to indicate that the prime minister was in ill health, that he was feeling badly. The first signs that Ariel Sharon was not feeling well probably came within the last hour or so, as they were leaving Jerusalem. They reached Abu Ghosh, it's an Israeli-Arab village, as we said, about 30 minutes, maybe 40 minutes outside of Jerusalem. That is when Ariel Sharon said that he was feeling weak, that he was not feeling well.
There are some reports right now, Wolf, that at sometime between that and reaching the hospital at Hadassah, which is about another 40, maybe 50 minutes from Abu Ghosh, that Ariel Sharon lost consciousness, but certainly no indication earlier in the day, and no indication in the last couple of weeks, last couple of months, even the last couple of years that Ariel Sharon has been suffering any kind of medical condition. He is a very robust man, he is a very healthy man, despite his physical appearance and despite his years, Wolf.
BLITZER: And he is, as you correctly point out, and as our viewers who watch him on television can obviously see, he is very, very overweight. But he's been very overweight like that for many years. He is 77 now. He's going to be 78 in February.
In Israel, they don't have the tradition of sharing information, medical information, about their leaders as they do here in the United States and other countries around the world. Have they ever really specifically told us specifics about his heart and others aspects of his health?
VAUSE: No, for many, many years, Ariel Sharon has refused to release those medical records, insisting that he is in good health, that there's nothing wrong with him. And for all intents and purposes, Wolf, the appearance of Ariel Sharon as he goes about his daily business, his day-to-day affairs, he appears to be an extremely robust, healthy man with a lot of energy.
He is approaching 78 years old. You know that in the last couple of weeks, he recently broke away from his Likud conservative party to form this new Kadima Party. So he certainly has had plans to continue on for the next three or four years, perhaps even longer. He is intent on leading this country. He sees himself as having a great future in the next couple of years as prime minister of this country. All the opinion polls certainly indicate that he will have that.
So, there's been this attitude that Ariel Sharon, despite his age, despite his apparent physical appearance, being overweight, and all the problems that come with that, that Ariel Sharon will continue on. His nickname is the Bulldozer. He appears to be a very determined man, both physically, emotionally and also politically. So, there has been this perception for many, many years that this man has been unstoppable. Maybe tonight, proved otherwise, Wolf.
BLITZER: As you point out, he's been under enormous stress in recent weeks and months as he leaves the party that he founded, the Likud Party, decades ago, to start this new centrist party. The former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has joined his party, as well, an elderly politician in Israel.
The stress, though, is nothing new to Ariel Sharon. This is someone who's fought as a military commander, going back to Israel's war in 1948 when Israel was established, and '56 against -- in the Sinai campaign against Egypt, the '67 Six-Day War, when Israel captured the Sinai, and he was one of the commanders that moved into Sinai.
So this is someone who is very familiar with stress, going back 50 years plus. Growing up with Israel, part of Israel's history. So it doesn't seem like the political maneuvering over the past few weeks, John, has been unnecessarily or at least overly stressful for a man who has gone through so much.
But I will point out, and I'm sure you will agree, that the pullout that the Israelis undertook in Gaza was enormously painful for someone like Ariel Sharon, who for so many years promoted Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.
VAUSE: Well, the thing about the Israeli pullout is that it wasn't just the political drama which Ariel Sharon had to endure through that very difficult summer here in Israel. It was also the death threats. There were threats to dig up his dead wife, Lily, who was buried on his ranch in the Negev desert. There was graffiti throughout Israel. Comparing him to a Nazi, which was obviously very, very painful to him.
But the one thing which I would say, Wolf, is that in the last couple of weeks, having watched Ariel Sharon for many, many years here, from Jerusalem -- in the last couple of weeks, before he made that announcement, before he decided that he was going to leave the Likud, he looked very drawn, he looked very tired. He looked spent. He looked like a man who was going through hell.
But at that press conference, when he finally announced that he was leaving Likud and that he was forming the Kadima Party, which means "forward" in Hebrew, when he finally made that announcement, he looked like a man who had just got out of jail. There was a spring in his step. He was joking with journalists, and he was joking again about a week or so later when he held a joint press conference with Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister, the Labor prime minister who was joining with Ariel Sharon, former adversaries, political rivals, who are indeed good, old friends -- the founding fathers of Israel, joining forces for one last time to try and define the borders of a future Israeli state. He was joking, he was laughing, he did not look 77 years old, he was having the time of his life. He was certainly looking forward to the next couple of years. He had every intention, or certainly still has every intention of being prime minister and if the opinion polls are right, he will be prime minister for the next couple of years. This turn in his health is very much a surprise. It has taken this country by a surprise. There is this assumption here in Israel that while Ariel Sharon is 77 years old, he is incredibly overweight, he is the bulldozer. He will continue somehow just like he did in '67 during the Six Day War, just like he did in '73 during the Yom Kippur War. There are people who are very, very surprised by this turn of events within the last hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: John Vause, stay with us. I want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world to our coverage. The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. He was taken in, we are told, unconscious on a stretcher. There are some reports he may have suffered a minor stroke. We're watching this story.
That's a live picture that you're seeing from the Hadassah Hospital in the Jerusalem in the Ein Karem section of Jerusalem. We're going to be going there. Guy Raz, one of our Jerusalem reporters, is approaching the hospital right now. We'll get the very latest from medical authorities at the hospital. The 77-year-old Israeli leader, very overweight, but seemingly in robust health over these many years taken to the hospital as he was leaving Jerusalem after a full day's work. John Vause is our Jerusalem correspondent. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
We're going to stay with this story. Potentially a very, very significant story as the Israeli prime minister is being treated now at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. John Vause, the vice prime minister of Israel is, I believe Ehud Olmert who was for many years the mayor of Jerusalem. I assume in a crisis like this, the vice prime minister, in effect, takes charge, is that right?
VAUSE: Yes. There are a number of deputy prime ministers but I heard Olmert has the title of vice prime minister which seems odd to people elsewhere in the world that there could be a number of deputy prime ministers. But it is in fact Ehud Olmert who is Ariel Sharon's most trusted number two man. If anything does in fact happen to Ariel Sharon it will be Ehud Olmert who takes over.
Whenever Ariel Sharon is out of the country it is Mr. Olmert who is essentially the acting prime minister who steps in. That has not developed at this stage. We're still trying to work out what the chain of command will be at this stage, whether or not Mr. Olmert has been called in, whether or not he will be stepping up, whether or not he will be filling in for Ariel Sharon.
What we know at this stage is that Ariel Sharon is, in fact, conscious right now at the hospital but we are being told within the last 10 or 15 minutes that he is conscious but he is confused so there is still a great deal of uncertainty about his precise condition, how serious this is, how long he will incapacitated. Whether or not he'll be able to go back to work, how long he will in the hospital, whether or not it will be necessary for Mr. Olmert to step up and take over from Mr. Sharon and what all this means in the bigger picture, Wolf, this is still a very, very early story, it's still developing at this stage, what we do know is that Ariel Sharon in hospital right now, undergoing tests.
The deputy director of the Hadassah Hospital saying it is simply too early to confirm those reports on the Israeli media that he suffered a minor stroke, Wolf.
BLITZER: We are getting this in courtesy of Reuters quoting Professor Shmuel Shapira, the director of Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center, saying the prime minister is conscious. He is undergoing tests, his condition is stable. That according to the director of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Martin Indyk is a former United States ambassador to Israel. He is joining us on the phone. Martin, thanks very much for joining us. Give us some perspective if, in fact, Ariel Sharon, 77, almost 78 years old, has suffered a minor stroke as is being reported by the Israeli news media and is in the hospital right now, politically, this has serious repercussions in Israel.
MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL (on phone): Well, it could have. A minor stroke is something that people can recover from. My mother had one, too, and she fully recovered so we should be careful about speculating too much but the context, Wolf, is critical.
Prime Minister Sharon has left the Likud Party and is mounting a political campaign with elections coming up in three months' time, the end of March, for a new political term, which everybody assumes would be his last political term simply because of his age and the expectation is that he broke with his party because he intended to win another term and to do dramatic things vis-a-vis Israel's borders in the next four years.
This -- if he's not able to lead his party and engage in this political campaign it could have profound consequences for the nature of Israeli politics in the next four years.
BLITZER: Then the next Israeli elections, correct me if I'm wrong, Martin, scheduled for March of this coming year. Is that right?
INDYK: It's March 28th, so it's only a few months off and basically the whole country has been on hold as all of the maneuvering has begun already for this election.
BLITZER: When I interviewed Ariel Sharon when he was here in Washington a few months ago for talks with President Bush, we met at Blair House, the official residence for foreign visitors across the street from the White House, and I have been watching and observing him, reporting on him for many years. He seemed even more overweight than he had been on so many earlier occasions when I saw him. I don't know when the last time you saw him -- but that overweight, 77, 78 years old, that obviously has to take some sort of impact on your health.
INDYK: Well, he's been like that for some time. I saw him last month in Jerusalem for the Sobun (ph) Forum and the Rabin memorial events and he spoke at the Sobun Forum, and he was quadrabus (ph), it was in the evening. He is very heavy, very stocky and that has I think been the case for a long time so it hasn't really slowed him down. It's always been to me somewhat of a mystery how he's been able to cope with such weight but he's a farmer and it just seems to be a natural condition for him.
BLITZER: And when he goes to his ranch in Negev outside of Beersheba he's always been robust and he's always been very active on that. From the U.S. government's perspective, how important is Ariel Sharon as far as the peace process is concerned?
INDYK: Well, he has been the central interlocutor for the Bush administration for the last five years. He has played a critical role in terms of the disengagement of Israel from Gaza, the complete withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, which has in a sense changed dramatically the whole nature of the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians and won a great deal of respect by George Bush because of the courage that it took in the face of the opposition of Israeli settlers for that move.
The assumption in Washington is that Sharon would win the elections coming up at the end of March and then would lead his country to another move, whether it was in a negotiation with Palestinian leader President Mahmoud Abbas or whether it was unilaterally remained to be seen but the assumption was when he broke with his -- the political party that he founded, he was doing that in order to lay the groundwork for another dramatic move, which the Bush administration was expecting to work with him on. Of course, tonight there is a big question mark about that.
BLITZER: These are live pictures we're getting in from the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. We're told only moments ago Sharon's son wearing a green sweater -- you might see it in some of the video we'll show you -- arrived at the hospital to be with his father who is undergoing tests right now. We're told by authorities at the Hadassah Medical Center that Sharon is conscious. Apparently was unconscious when he arrived at the hospital in a stretcher.
Some Israeli media reporting that he suffered from a minor stroke undergoing tests right now. He has full consciousness, and he's undergoing medical examinations. That according to Yuval Weiss, the deputy manager of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Martin Indyk, the former United States ambassador to Israel is with us. John Vause our longtime Jerusalem correspondent is with us, as well. Martin, stick around for a moment. John Vause, I know you're working the phones. We're getting more information from our sources in Jerusalem. Guy Raz, another of our Jerusalem correspondents is on the way or should be at the hospital getting ready to report from there. When else can you tell our viewers in the United States, John, and around the world?
VAUSE: Wolf, a short time ago we found out that Ariel Sharon was, in fact, talking with one of his sons. We're assuming it was Omri, who is also a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, he was on his cell phone, he was talking with Omri, when he was leaving Jerusalem heading out towards Abu Ghosh, heading toward his ranch in the Negev when he fell ill and that's when the prime minister's cavalcade, his convoy turned around and headed for the Hadassah Hospital.
I've just finished speaking with an aide to the Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who says Mr. Olmert right now is at a soccer match, a football game in Haifa in the northern part of Israel. There are no plans to rush him back to Jerusalem at this stage. The word or the feeling amongst those within the Israeli government, that this is just simply a minor scare and that Ariel Sharon will be fine. They are, of course, watching this very, very closely. As far as Ehud Olmert, the vice prime minister, is concerned he is still up in the northern part of Haifa watching that football match. No plans to return to Jerusalem at this stage, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, John. Martin Indyk, what do you make of that, the fact that the Vice Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, a longtime ally of Ariel Sharon, someone for many years was the mayor of Jerusalem is staying up in the northern part of Israel and watching a soccer game?
INDYK: Well, I would say two possibilities, Wolf. One is that this really is a minor stroke and they're expecting to release the prime minister soon. But I think secondly and perhaps more importantly, Olmert doesn't want to panic the nation. I think it's important to understand what a giant of a leader Ariel Sharon has become in these years through the intifada and his removal from the scene politically even just because he's incapacitated would be quite dramatic for the country. It's a small country. Everybody knows everybody else. I think that Olmert is probably just wanting just signal that the situation is OK and he wants people to remain calm, and the best way to signal that is to stay at the soccer match.
BLITZER: I assume you're right, Martin, and you spent many years as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. There you see the video that just came in of Ariel Sharon's son, also rather bulky himself, Omri Sharon, wearing that green sweater walking into the hospital to be with his father as he undergoes medical examinations, medical tests, taken to the hospital earlier within the past hour or two to having suffered some sort of serious problem. He was unconscious. Guy Raz is on the scene for us at the hospital. Our Jerusalem correspondent, he's joining us on the phone right now. Guy, set the scene for us. What's going on at the Hadassah Hospital?
GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, there are literally hundreds of reporters out here waiting for any detail that is coming out of that hospital ward. Just a few minutes ago, as you just pointed out, Omri Sharon, one of Ariel Sharon's two sons, entered the hospital presumably obviously to go and visit his father. Now, we understand from Israel radio that the prime minister right now is in stable condition being looked over by a neurologist.
In fact, we understand from these reports that he has spoken. He's moved his arm and it appears according to a neurologist right now that he is in stable condition and that what may have happened, of course, hasn't been confirmed yet, is that he had some kind of minor stroke but, of course, we're still awaiting word on whether that, indeed, was the case, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any plan, any indication, setting up of microphones or anything like that that someone from the hospital, one of the doctors treating Ariel Sharon will come out and make a statement to the media?
RAZ: Right now, no, not at all and I think Martin Indyk pointed out very accurately there is really an intention not to panic the nation, not to give them a sense of fear in a sense Ariel Sharon, of course, a widely popular prime minister. A man who is regarded as a kind of paragon of stability, if you will, so I think there really is a sense right now by hospital officials and by medical doctors inside Hadassah Hospital here to really give Israelis a sense that their prime minister suffered some kind of minor incident and that he will ultimately be fine, but, of course, he is 77 years old. He is very overweight. This is a man who has seen a lot during his lifetime, so it's not completely out of the ordinary that at this stage, at his age and his condition he would end up in the hospital, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there -- maybe John Vause can help us with this, as well. The Israeli television stations, have they gone into nonstop coverage of this story, or are they on their regularly scheduled programming?
VAUSE: Wolf, as best I can tell they've broken into coverage and are rolling with this much the same as we are. Of course, the condition of the prime minister, the health of the prime minister, of great deal of concern not just to this nation but to the entire region so they are covering this. It is breaking news very much here in Israel and given the fact this man is approaching 78 years of age, will be 78 in February of next year so there is of course a great deal of concern about Ariel Sharon's health. They are covering this, following this every step of the way, Wolf.
BLITZER: And as far as you know ...
VAUSE: And if I can just add one last thing.
BLITZER: Go ahead, John.
VAUSE: One last thing, Wolf. We just heard from Ra'anan Gissin a short time ago that there will be no statement coming from the Israeli government on the health of the prime minister until we hear from the hospital itself. So until there is a statement coming from Hadassah Hospital, the Israeli government will not be making any comment about what may have happened and what may be the condition of Ariel Sharon right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's Ra'anan Gissin, long time the press aide, the press secretary to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Let's go back to Guy Raz, he is over at the Hadassah Hospital for us. Guy, as you take a look at the scene there and you've been in Israel for the past few years for CNN, do you remember anything similar to this, any health scares for Ariel Sharon, anything along these lines, because as far as John Vause and I can remember, he's been relatively healthy all these years.
RAZ: Absolutely and it's confounded many medical experts in many ways because as they've pointed out Ariel Sharon is very overweight, he is 77 years old but he is in good health and has generally been in good health. Now the only parallel I think one can draw from this scene is, of course, scenes that we saw last year with Yasser Arafat. But as I say it does appear as if medical officials here are trying to give the indication that things are OK, that things are stable. It should be pointed out, Wolf, that Ariel Sharon travels in a massive enormous convoy of cars and when he began to feel ill, that convoy literal literally made a left turn on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway and was at this medical facility within minutes.
And this is one of the best-equipped and best-known medical facilities in the country and he will at this time -- is being looked at by the best doctors that exist in the country, as well. Wolf?
BLITZER: It's a state-of-the-art facility, The Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. I've been there on many occasions, some of the best doctors in the world work there. I'm sure he's getting excellent treatment. Guy Raz, stand by, and John Vause, stand by as well. There is another story we're watching. And we're going to update our viewers on that, a German archaeologist kidnapped in Iraq has been freed together with her driver. This according to the foreign minister of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. We are going to update you on that. Much more on Ariel Sharon in the hospital when our special coverage continues on CNN and CNN International.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're following a breaking story out of Jerusalem. Seventy-seven year old Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been rushed to a hospital in Jerusalem. Losing consciousness, we're told he has regained consciousness. Israeli media suggesting he may have suffered a minor stroke. He is undergoing medical tests right now. No official statement yet coming from his longtime press secretary Ra'anan Gissin.
Authorities at the Hadassah Hospital saying he is undergoing tests right now. CNN's Guy Raz is on the scene for us. Guy, you're at the hospital. For our viewers who may just be tuning in, tell us what they know right now.
RAZ: Wolf, what we know right now is that the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was rushed to the Hadassah Medical Center about an hour and ten minutes ago. After he reported to some of his advisers that he was feeling ill. Now Israeli media reported he may have suffered a minor stroke. Now, at that time his convey was on its way out of Jerusalem towards Tel Aviv. It made a sharp left turn on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway and took the prime minister right to Hadassah medical facility, one of the largest medical facilities in the country.
We understand that at a certain point the prime minister had lost consciousness. He has now regained consciousness and neurologists are carrying out tests. We also understand that he has spoken and that he has moved his arms. Now, both of his sons are here at the hospital at the moment. We just saw one of his sons, Omri, who is also a former member of the Knesset and active adviser to his father enter the hospital. Ariel Sharon very close with his two sons, particularly since his wife Lily died about a decade ago and it's very likely that his sons will probably hold vigil here tonight but doctors are saying he is in stable condition and they are not giving us any - really, any other information about his condition at the moment, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Guy, stand by.
John Vause is in Jerusalem as well. Our veteran long-term Jerusalem correspondent. John, update our viewers what you're hearing.
VAUSE: Wolf, pretty much just to confirm what Guy Raz was telling us just moments ago, that Ariel Sharon is in fact in that hospital right now. As far as the political ramifications of all of this, we know that Ehud Olmert, the vice prime minister here in Israel is in fact right now in Haifa, the northern part of the country. He is watching a soccer match up there. There are no plans to rush him back to Jerusalem. Aides to Ehud Olmert tell CNN that, in fact, they are monitoring the situation but they believe that while this may in fact be serious at this stage, there is no cause for concern that this could in fact just be a minor problem, a minor stroke that Ariel Sharon will fully recover.
They expect that within the coming hours. We also know that Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority has contacted the Israeli government to find out the condition of Ariel Sharon and also to wish the prime minister well on behalf of the Palestinian people.
Of course, the condition of Ariel Sharon is not only important to Israelis but also to Palestinians and of course this entire region, Wolf. There's been a great deal of pressure on Ariel Sharon as he faces these elections coming in March, March 28th. Has formed a new party. He has been under a great deal of pressure for most of this year as he's withdrawn settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip.
At times he's appeared drawn, spent, exhausted. But in the last couple of weeks he's had a new lease on life. He's been reinvigorated. He's been looking forward to these elections. All the opinion polls suggest that he has a long future it ahead of him as prime minister of this country certainly for the next term, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. John Vause, stand by. We'll continue to follow this story for our viewers around the world. The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a hospital right now undergoing tests after losing consciousness taken to the Hadassah Medical Center. He is conscious we're told right now but medical authorities are undertaking tests to determine what exactly happened. Israeli media reports suggesting it could have been a minor stroke.
We're going to get more information and stay on top of this story. Another story we're following coming out of Germany. A German hostage has been freed. Chris Burns is joining us on the phone. He's got details. What exactly do we know, Chris?
CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the first German to be kidnapped in the Iraqi conflict. She was kidnapped on November 25th. More than three weeks. She was kidnapped with her Iraqi driver and authorities, German officials had been arguing she should not have been targeted. She was an archaeologist helping in restoring archaeological sites in Iraq, had nothing to do with the conflict.
Germany itself has no troops on the ground there but they have been helping in training security forces. And when the videotape came out by the group holding her along with her driver they did make the point they want Germany to cut all of its ties with the Iraqi regime, the Iraqi government and the German government, of course, did not respond to that. They had been trying to contact the kidnappers. It is not clear if there was any kind of a deal or any kind of negotiations, but the German government has come forward this evening and said that Susanne Osthoff is in the care of the German embassy in Baghdad at this moment, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the political ramifications, this release of this woman, this hostage, talk a little bit about how this could impact Germany and its attitude towards Iraq.
BURNS: Well, the German government has remained staunch that it will not get involved military with Iraq. The new Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will continue the policy that Gerhard Schroeder, the former chancellor, was pursuing that Germany would not get involved militarily but she did want to improve the support of the Iraqi government so the timing of this kidnapping is very interesting because Merkel came to power she has tried to pursue better, closer ties, trying to increase that support and this kidnapping perhaps makes that point that at least some of those groups do not want that to happen.
The German government has been working with other countries including the Americans in trying to train the security forces. The German government did not say that it was -- that it established any ties with those kidnappers. They were according to German news reports working through an intermediary.
What could be interesting is in the future the German archaeologists had been trying to restore a number of sites in Iraq and that this kidnapping might throw cold water on that project.
BLITZER: All right, Chris Burns reporting for us the release of this German archaeologist having been held hostage in Iraq. We'll continue to watch the fallout from this development as well.
The other big story we're watching right now, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He is in the hospital in Jerusalem, apparently, according to Israeli media reports perhaps suffering a minor stroke, losing consciousness, rushed to the hospital. He is now according to Hadassah medical authorities regained consciousness. He's undergoing tests in the hospital right now and we're going to try to find out precisely, precisely what's going on.
Guy Raz is joining us from the hospital. John Vause our Jerusalem correspondent is there on the scene. Let me start with you, John Vause and tell our viewers the political significance if, in fact, Ariel Sharon should suffer some serious medical problem how this would impact on the political process, the peace process with the Palestinians.
RAZ: Well, in many ways, Wolf, if you look at how the country is set up politically, if you look at who leads this country right now, you have Ariel Sharon, a man of 77 years of age, the elder statesman is Shimon Peres who is 82 years old, these are the two wise old men of Israeli politics and below them there really isn't a great deal of talent to take their place. Certainly that's how they perceive the future of Israeli politics.
Right now, though, you have Ehud Olmert, who is the vice prime minister, the former very high-profile mayor of Jerusalem, the confidant, the number two man, the deputy of Ariel Sharon. Should anything happen to Ariel Sharon then Ehud Olmert will step up and become the acting prime minister. Of course, this country is going to elections this March 28th to elect a new government. The polls have it that Ariel Sharon would, in fact, win that quite easily with his new party called Kadima but should Ariel Sharon not be there, this is a party which has been created around Ariel Sharon.
So if Ariel Sharon is not part of Kadima, then the thinking is that Kadima, this new centrist party, which is called on and brought in politicians from the left and also from the right will simply collapse without him because there is not that one unifying figure, that one unifying driving force that Ariel Sharon has been in this country for as long as anyone here can remember, so without Ariel Sharon, that Kadima Party is pretty much gone, certainly that is the thinking here within the Israeli political commentators so without Ariel Sharon to drive this process, this country is very much in disarray.
The whole game changes, the rules change, everything is upset. And so then you get to the stage where you have a new leader on the Labour side. You're likely to have Benjamin Netanyahu the former prime minister, the very right wing leader as the leader of the Likud Party, the primaries for Likud will be held later this week and Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win that.
But without Ariel Sharon as that central driving force, then certainly this whole peace process, where the country is going, the direction, what Israel plans to do for the future will pretty much go with him should he decide that he doesn't want to go on with politics, should he be physically unable or whether he decides within himself that maybe now is the time to give it up. So this is a huge deal when it comes to Israeli politics. The health of this man very much the health of this country politically, Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's interesting. You were just getting into it earlier, the reaction of the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Update our viewers on what we're hearing the Palestinian reaction to this latest development tonight in Jerusalem that Ariel Sharon is in the hospital.
RAZ: Well, the Palestinians are obviously watching this very, very closely because the fate of Ariel Sharon doesn't necessarily simply impact on the Israelis. It impacts on the Palestinians. It impacts on this entire region so the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been watching this. Through his spokesman and through the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, he contacted the prime minister's office, they want to find out the condition of the prime minister and are finding out exactly what we know, that right now the prime minister is conscious, that he is talking, that he may have been confused but that's all they know. They know what we know. That's all they're being told right now.
The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did pass on the fact that they wished him well, they wished him good health on behalf of the Palestinian people. But, of course, the great deal of concern as far as Mahmoud Abbas is concerned is whether or not, you know, Ariel Sharon will continue in -- as leader of this country, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by, John. We have a spokesman from the Hadassah Hospital on the phone with us joining us now. Ron Krumer. I believe that's your name, John, excuse me.
RON KRUMER, HADASSAH HOSPITAL SPOKESMAN: Yes. Good evening.
BLITZER: Tell our viewers what you can about the condition of the Israeli prime minister.
KRUMER: We issued statement earlier this evening that Prime Minister Sharon arrived at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, it was about 8:00 this evening fully conscious. He is undergoing medical examinations and issue further information after the examinations are finished.
BLITZER: Mr. Krumer, what time was the prime minister brought to Hadassah?
KRUMER: At 8:00 this evening.
BLITZER: 8:00 local time which would be, what, 1:00 here on the East Coast of the United States. That's about an hour and a half or so ago. Was he conscious when he was brought in?
KRUMER: Yes, yes, he was.
BLITZER: Had he -- based on what you know, Mr. Krumer, had he ever lost consciousness? Mr. Krumer?
KRUMER: No, he did not.
BLITZER: Even when he was -- what were the symptoms that he was suffering from that justified that suggested he be rushed to the hospital?
KRUMER: I'm sorry. We will have to wait for further information when we issue another statement. BLITZER: And do you have any idea what time that might be?
KRUMER: Pretty soon.
BLITZER: Pretty soon? The next few minutes, half hour, hour?
KRUMER: About half hour. Not more than half an hour.
BLITZER: And do you do that -- will you do that with some sort of news conference? Will one of the doctors come to a microphone?
BLITZER: Or will you issue sort of a written statement?
KRUMER: The -- one of the doctors will come out as many reporters, as you can imagine, outside of the hospital, and he will read the statement.
BLITZER: And then he will answer questions from the press?
KRUMER: No, no, he will not answer questions.
BLITZER: What is the tradition for our viewers around the world,. Mr. Krumer in Israel, you know a lot about this, of Israeli leaders letting the public at large know about their health records.
KRUMER: I'm sorry. I cannot discuss this right now.
BLITZER: All right. What else would you like to tell us, if anything?
KRUMER: Well, unfortunately that's it. We will further issue information when we have it.
BLITZER: Ron Krumer is a spokesman for the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. Mr. Krumer, thank you very much.
KRUMER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And we'll continue our special coverage, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 77 years old, almost 78 years old in the hospital right now. We're standing by awaiting an update from the Hadassah Hospital on his condition.
We'll take a quick break. Much more of this coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our special coverage of the hospitalization of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He's at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem right now having suffered some sort of serious problem. We're told he apparently had lost consciousness at one point, although he was conscious when he was brought to the hospital. John Vause is our Jerusalem correspondent. He's got the latest information for us, John. What do you know?
VAUSE: Wolf, we know that before Ariel Sharon left his office here in Jerusalem, he was meeting with Shimon Peres, the former labor prime minister who recently threw his support behind Ariel Sharon's new Kadima Party. Apparently, during that meeting Ariel Sharon was in good spirits, he was joking. He was laughing. When he left that meeting, it was after leaving that meeting on his way home to his ranch in the Negev when he suddenly fell ill and the prime minister's convoy turned around and headed for the Hadassah Hospital.
We've been speaking with a number of aides, a number of sources within the government who have been quite shocked by this turn of events. They make the point that this is a very, very small country and while Ariel Sharon has never released his medical records, the people I've been talking to in the last couple of minutes they say, listen, in the past whenever prime ministers have been ill, Golda Meir or Menachem Begin, people knew about it. Whenever those people sought out treatment, everybody knew. There is only 6 million people in this country. It's very, very difficult to keep a secret. So from that point of view they're shocked by this turn of events.
We've also heard from the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, from Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator who said the Palestinians have contacted the Israeli government to inquire about the prime minister's health and also to wish him well. On the flip side of that coin, Wolf, in Gaza, they are now handing out candy and there is celebratory gunfire in the air right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting that we just heard also, John, from the spokesman for the Hadassah Hospital, Ron Krumer saying that they do anticipate one of the doctors treating Ariel Sharon will emerge from the hospital and make a statement to the press. As you point out, lots of reporters, camera crews have gathered at that Jerusalem hospital, clearly trying to cover this story for their readers, their viewers and their listeners around the world.
Ariel Sharon in the hospital right now undergoing tests after apparently losing consciousness at one point some Israeli media reports suggesting he suffered from a minor stroke.
John Vause, do we know anything else about this Palestinian reaction in Gaza? When you say they're handing out candy, it sounds like they're pretty happy, at least a lot of Palestinians there that the Israeli prime minister might be very ill.
VAUSE: Well, handing out candy traditionally happens after a suicide bombing or after some kind of attack on Israelis. It's a form of celebrating. It's obviously not in the best of taste at this particular time as you can imagine and the celebratory gunfire is to be expected.
The Palestinians, especially in Gaza, do not have a great deal of love for Ariel Sharon but on that issue of waiting for that statement coming from the hospital, the number of people that I've been speaking with within the Israeli government, it seems that what they're doing is they're leaving this to the hospital. They're in the dark just as much as we are waiting for some kind of statement coming from the hospital. This is pretty much being run by the people in Hadassah Hospital.
The people I normally deal with on a daily basis, to give me information, while they know a little bit about what's going on. Certainly they're being kept away from the minute-by-minute, the blow- by-blow, of the prime minister's condition.
They are waiting to hear from Hadassah Hospital just like we are. We are expecting that statement now probably within the next 20 minutes or so, so as soon as we have that statement from the hospital, we'll all have a better idea of precisely what happened to the prime minister, did he lose consciousness? Did he suffer some kind of minor stroke? What's his prognosis? How long he'll be in hospital but right now no one in the government, certainly no one on the level that I've been dealing with knows precisely what's going on with the prime minister. Wolf?
BLITZER: And the vice prime minister, Ehud Olmert continuing to remain in the northern part of Israel, John, watching a soccer game.
VAUSE: That's right. Now, we heard from Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador here raising a couple of good points regarding that. Now, whether or not that's an indication that this is not that serious, whether Mr. Olmert believes that it's best served by staying up there in Haifa and not wanting to panic the nation by returning on a -- in a speedy manner back to Jerusalem or whether or not this is just some kind of minor health complaint which will pass in the next couple of hours, maybe the next couple of days, all of this will become apparent when we get that statement from the hospital.
But right now certainly Ehud Olmert is staying up north in Haifa in the northern part of Israel watching a soccer match. Should anything happen to Ariel Sharon, it will be Mr. Olmert who steps up and becomes the acting prime minister for however long Ariel Sharon is incapacitated, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. John, stand by.
Ed Djerejian, the former United States ambassador to Israel, former U.S. ambassador to Syria. Long-time Middle East diplomat is joining us on the phone. Ambassador Djerejian, thanks very much for joining us. I think as a long time observer of Israel, it's somewhat ironic that Ariel Sharon is emerging as this peacemaker given his earlier reputation of one of Israel's leading hawks.
EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: That's absolutely correct, Wolf. And, of course, hopefully he will recover and recover fully because his leadership is needed since he is really the spearhead since the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank of the next phase in the moves toward peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
His leadership is very much needed. And as we go toward the Israeli elections and also during this time during the Palestinian elections, but the key factor, Wolf, in my analysis is that something very important has happened within the Likud Party, not the extremists in Likud but within the Likud Party over the last two years where they've looked at the demographic realities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean and they saw that with the growing Arab populations the Jews in the region would be a very small minority and that the only solution to maintain and these adjectives are important, a democratic Jewish state is have a two-state solution and I think this was the conceptual turnaround for Ariel Sharon given what you remarked about his past history that has led in this role toward a separation between the Israelis and Palestinians if it can be done through a peace agreement, that is the higher and much better road but that the two-state solution is the way out.
BLITZER: And it's interesting, ambassador, that Ariel Sharon has for has forged this alliance with Shimon Peres was much more liberal, much more dovish over these past many years to create this new party that would be a centrist party and Sharon clearly does have that attitude, a changed attitude as a result of the demographics as you correctly point out on the ground, but some to his right like the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and apparently the leader emerging in the new Likud certainly does not necessarily share that perspective.
DJEREJIAN: That's correct and that's the battle within Likud and that's the reason why Prime Minister Sharon went his own way and is forming this Kadima Party and he can hold a center right. He can bring in leaders like Peres and members of the Labour group, not all of them, but that's why his illness as reported comes at a critical point and hopefully he'll be able to assume this leadership role to go forward.
BLITZER: Ambassador Djerejian is the founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Ambassador, I'm going to ask you to stand by if you can. We're continuing our special coverage, the Israeli prime minister in the hospital right now. We're standing by. We expect one of his doctors to emerge in the next few moments and update us on the condition of 77-year-old Ariel Sharon.
This is a live picture you're seeing from the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. We're watching.
We're watching another breaking story out of Germany. The release of a German hostage in Iraq. We're going to continue to cover that story, as well. Stay with us. Our coverage will continue.
BLITZER: We're following a breaking story out of Jerusalem, the hospitalization of Ariel Sharon and we're also following a story out of Germany, the release of a German archaeologist held hostage in Iraq. Want to update our viewers on all these stories. Let's go to Chris Burns, though, in Germany first for the latest on the release of this German hostage in Iraq. Chris?
BURNS: Wolf, it's not clear when Susanne Osthoff is coming back home to Germany but the German authorities have confirmed this evening that she is in the care of the German embassy in Baghdad, Susanne Osthoff, 43-year-old archaeologist from Bavaria was kidnapped on November 25th, that's more than three weeks ago, along with her Iraqi driver and at this moment it is not clear when he will be released.
It is apparent according to the statement by the foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier just about an hour ago that he is still held but that it is expected that he will be released, as well. Now, of course, the German government has kept an arm's length from the Iraqi conflict. They have not put boots on the ground there, but they are training security forces outside of Iraq, and that perhaps is probably the main reason this group released a videotape saying they wanted the German government to cut all ties with the Iraqi government.
They showed the two -- Susanne Osthoff and the driver blindfolded. A German magazine here has identified the group as Brigades of the Earthquake. Saliyah al Zilzal (ph). Apparently a group that is not previously known so it is not clear exactly what negotiations went on with whom to secure her release, but she is free at this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Burns reporting for us from Jerusalem (sic). Good news on that front. This German archaeologist has been freed having been held hostage in Iraq.
The other story we're following in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon undergoing tests right now described as being in stable condition, apparently losing consciousness earlier, rushed to the hospital. Several Israeli media reports suggesting he suffered a mild stroke, both of his sons are now at the hospital we're told with their father. We're standing by awaiting a statement from one of the doctors who has been treating Ariel Sharon. Guy Raz is our correspondent. He's at the hospital for us. He is joining us live. We expect a statement fairly soon, Guy, is that right?
RAZ: Indeed, we do, Wolf, and perhaps that will shed a bit more light on the prime minister's condition. Now, at the moment we have somewhat conflicting information. Here's what we know. We know that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was rushed to the Hadassah medical facility just on the outskirts of Jerusalem this evening at 8:00 p.m. local time, that's about 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and basically from that point forward we know very little.
We know the prime minister right now is conscious. We know that he has moved his hands. We know that he's spoken but there have been conflicting reports over whether or not he did at some point fall out of consciousness.
Now, hospital officials as you know, Wolf, are denying that he was unconscious when he arrived to the hospital. And they haven't given us any indication as to whether the prime minister suffered what some Israeli media are reporting as a minor stroke.
Now, as you mentioned, Wolf, just a short time ago, Ariel Sharon's son arrived here at the hospital. He is very close with both of his sons who are something of kind of political advisers, both of those men to their father. Very close to their father since Ariel Sharon was widowed about ten years ago.
But as I say we do expect in the next 10 to 15 minutes one of the doctors who has been carrying out tests on Ariel Sharon to come out and give the journalists gathered here outside Hadassah Hospital an update on his medical condition.
BLITZER: We're told he's receiving an MRI. He's being treated by neurologists to make sure that he is okay. But we're trying to get some more specific information on the condition of Ariel Sharon.
We got some new video in. We showed it briefly. Let's show it to our viewers. From Gaza. Here you see Palestinians in Gaza. Apparently some of them, at least, celebrating word that the Israeli prime minister has been taken to the hospital suffering what some Israeli media reports suggesting a mild stroke. There is clearly no love lost for Ariel Sharon among many of these Palestinians, although we are getting a different line of reaction from the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president is suggesting through a spokesman that he is concerned.
The Israeli government under Sharon has worked out some sort of arrangement with the Palestinian Authority on not only the troop withdrawal and Israeli settlement withdrawal from Gaza over these past several months but perhaps starting an additional withdrawal from parts of the West Bank with Ariel Sharon in the hospital now, that potentially could be a question mark, although probably nothing serious in the peace process was going to be happening between now and the end of March when the next Israeli elections are scheduled.
Guy Raz is at the hospital for us. Guy, as we show these viewers these -- here's somebody speaking right there. Let's listen and see if he's speaking in English or Hebrew.
TRANSLATOR: ... the media teams organized and now we're awaiting Professor Weiss's detailed statement. Doctor Yuval Weiss, can you give us some details? Just one moment.
Yes, we know we'll be starting shortly.
BLITZER: That is the doctor, Dr. Yuval Weiss of the Hadassah Medical Center. He is standing by. He is going to be making a statement. I assume he's going to be speaking in Hebrew and we'll translate that for you as soon as he starts speaking. Let's listen in.
TRANSLATOR: We'll have to be patient until the bulletin is provided by Dr. Yuval Weiss. Can you tell us the condition of the prime minister?
Mr. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister came to the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem around 8:00 in the evening. Our tests have shown that the prime minister had a mild CVA, a mild stroke and during tests his condition improved. The prime minister was fully conscious the whole time and remains so during all of the tests. He did not need any invasive procedure. He is now speaking with his family and the members of his bureau. He will be hospitalized for observation in the internal medicine department, we think that the prime minister will shortly be discharged. Thank you. Dr. Weiss is not answering any questions.
BLITZER: And there you have it from Dr. Yuval Weiss, the doctor at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem speaking to reporters in Hebrew. The translation we all heard, suffering a mild stroke. His condition, though, has improved. He is fully conscious, we're told. He did not need any invasive procedures and they do anticipate he will be hospitalized for a little bit longer and shortly according to Dr. Weiss, will be discharged.
Guy Raz is at the hospital for us. I assume this is going to calm down a lot of the nervousness that's been going on in Israel and perhaps around the world, the condition of Ariel Sharon, Guy.
RAZ: Well, I think so, Wolf, and Dr. Weiss, as you pointed out was fairly tight-lipped and concise in what he had to say. He did, of course, confirm that Ariel Sharon did indeed have a minor stroke. Now, that is not a condition to be scoffed at. Of course, Ariel Sharon is 77 years old. He is not in the best of health. He was rushed to this hospital at about 8:00 p.m. local time here, about 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time and according to Dr. Weiss, the prime minister is in stable condition. He arrived to the hospital conscious. He is conscious at the moment and tests are being carried out on him as we speak and Dr. Weiss also seemed to suggest that the prime minister would be discharged shortly, perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps tonight -- we don't know that.
Not wanting to answer any further questions about Ariel Sharon's condition but really it gives you an indication the nervousness, the jitters that this has caused, gives you an indication to the extent the broad segment of the Israeli population has coalesced around this prime minister. This is a man that all polls indicate most Israelis want as their prime minister when Israelis go to the polls in March, and they believe that Ariel Sharon continuing in the position of prime minister will bring about a continuity that most Israelis say they want and that is precisely why this incident has caused so much nervousness this evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: Guy Raz reporting for us in Jerusalem at the Hadassah Medical Center and let me just recap for our viewers what we've just learned from Dr. Yuval Weiss of the Hadassah Medical Center, that around 8:00 p.m., that's about two hours ago, Ariel Sharon was brought to the hospital, apparently having suffered a mild stroke although his condition, we are told, has improved. He's fully conscious right now. He underwent a series of tests. He did not need any invasive procedure according to Dr. Weiss. He's still hospitalized. They do anticipate that he will be released shortly.
What shortly means, we were not told, but shortly he will be discharged.
John Vause has been watching all of this as well. Same question to you that I just asked Guy Raz, John. I suspect this report is going to calm down a lot of the concerns of the people in Israel.
RAZ: It will to a point, wolf, and the thing to remember about Ariel Sharon is that this is a very determined man. It reminds me of earlier this year when there were a lot of death threats about Ariel Sharon and his attempts to withdraw the settlers from the Gaza Strip and he was surrounded by all of those security guards and all of those bodyguards, at one count I counted about 18 bodyguards around him and someone asked him if he was wearing a bulletproof vest, a bulletproof jacket and he joked, he said they don't make them in my size so this is a man who has a sense of humor about these kinds of things, about his size and all that kind of thing and this in many ways, if he has a say in this, I gather will not slow him down to any great degree.
We're yet to find out how severe this was. It was a minor stroke but, of course, that has a lot of interpretation to be worked out, how severe it was and what it means for him and his prognosis in the long term, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. John Vause, Guy Raz, our entire team of CNN reporters, we've been watching this story for you on CNN and CNN international. The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the hospital, although he is expected to be discharged fairly soon.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, our coverage will continue on CNN with "Time" Magazine's person of the year. The news continues on CNN International.
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