Smiling and joking with reporters but looking slightly drawn, Sharon, 77, said: "It appears that you have missed me."

Sharon, gearing up for a campaign for a 28 March general election, wasted little time in trying to allay any public doubts about his ability to govern.

"Now I need to quickly return to work and move forward," he said at the Jerusalem hospital where he was rushed by bodyguards on Sunday.

"I don't believe it will affect my ability to function."

Doctors say the former general, who is seeking a third term in office, suffered no lasting damage and should recover fully.

But it moved Sharon's health to centre stage ahead of the election which polls predict he will win.

Any further health problems, however, could undermine his re-election chances.