I’ve already heard from a number of people who have said that if Sharon were to die, Israel would be thrown into political upheaval. The elections, scheduled for March 28, would go on as planned but now it’s results are less than certain. Sharon was expected to easily win the vote.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fought for his life Thursday following seven hours of emergency surgery to stop widespread bleeding in his brain. The massive stroke made it unlikely that he would return to power.

Vice Premier Ehud Olmert was named acting prime minister and convened the Cabinet for a special session, where Sharon’s large chair at the center of the long oval table remained empty. “This is a difficult situation that we are not accustomed to,” Olmert told the somber ministers.

A brain scan after surgery showed that the bleeding had been stopped, and the 77-year-old prime minister was transferred to the intensive care unit, said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

At a midafternoon briefing, Mor-Yosef said Sharon was in serious but stable condition on a respirator in “deep sedation.” He will remain sedated for another 24 hours at least, Mor-Yosef said.

Sharon’s sudden turn for the worse, at the height of his popularity, stunned Israelis, who had relied on the tough ex-general to steer them through turbulent times. Rabbis called Israelis to flock to synagogues and say special prayers.

Meanwhile, some Israeli news outlets have said that technically, Sharon is already dead.

Reliable sources indicate to Israel Insider that PM Ariel Sharon died at 11 am. Israeli media channels still report his condition is “very grave.” Director of Hadassah Hospital Shlomo Mor-Yosef officially denies “rumors” of death and says Sharon’s condition is “serious but stable.”

Channel 10 reports those closest to Sharon as saying he has suffered “brain damage.” A likely explanation to reconcile the two reports is that Sharon has suffered brain death — the lack of cerebral activity — but that his heart continues beating, while he remains anesthetized and respirated.

I expect official word to come sometime today that the prime minister has expired.

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