The Israeli prime minister, a 77-year-old former general battling for re-election after pulling Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and remaking Israel's political landscape, was taken to hospital on Sunday.

Doctors said he would stay for further tests and, if all went well, he would be discharged on Tuesday. The blood clot on his brain had gone without causing any lasting damage, they said.

Tamir Ben-Hur, the chief neurologist, said: "There is an excellent chance this will not repeat itself. I think after he rests he will be able to return to normal activity."

A parliamentary election is due in March, and some commentators had suggested that the health scare could damage the prospects of Sharon's new centrist party, Kadima.

Nahum Barnea wrote in the mass-market Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper: "Kadima's existence depends on one man. It is reasonable to assume that the stroke ... damaged his party in electoral terms."

Media interviews

Aides assured Israelis that Sharon was in no danger and that there was no need for a temporary transfer of his powers. Sharon's exit from the scene would mean a major upheaval.

Sharon's doctors say, if all goes
well, he will be home by Tuesday

Sharon told Israeli media overnight that he was fine.

"I guess I should have taken a few days off," he said.

"There are people who are already interested in a replacement? Well, maybe it's too soon. I'm still here, no?"

Sharon has been a central figure in shaping the Middle East for decades. Once the archetype of the Israeli hawk, he won praise at home and abroad for this year's Gaza withdrawal. 
 
Election campaign

The Haaretz daily said the question of Sharon's health was bound to now become a major factor in the election campaign, regardless of the results of his medical examinations.

"The oldest prime minister who has ever headed this country is now asking the voters to elect him for another four years, while his opponents are much younger" 

Haaretz,
Israeli daily newspaper

"The oldest prime minister who has ever headed this country is now asking the voters to elect him for another four years, while his opponents are much younger," it said.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was among the first wellwishers, phoning Sharon's office to offer his hopes for a swift recovery.
 
Israeli markets weakened on the news of Sharon's mild stroke, with share prices down as much as 0.7% and the shekel dipping slightly against the dollar.

Sharon's illness overshadowed Monday's vote to succeed him in what remains of his Likud party, now trailing at third place in the polls behind Kadima movement and leftist Labour.