RAMAT GAN, Israel: Former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, showed improvement Wednesday following a major stroke, but remained in critical condition, doctors said.
Concerns mounted for 93-year-old Peres, widely respected as an elder statesman both in Israel and abroad, after he suffered the stroke and bleeding on Tuesday.
“He is still in a critical condition, stable, but we can see some improvement,” Yitzhak Kreiss, director of the Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, told reporters outside the hospital near Tel Aviv.
Peres was still sedated and breathing with a respirator, but doctors were seeking to reduce sedation to evaluate him and he was occasionally awake, Kreiss said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited his old rival’s bedside and told reporters in Hebrew, “we feel some relief… because this evening he is better than he was yesterday evening”.
“With God’s help tomorrow he will be better than this evening,” he added. “There is hope and there is prayer.”
Peres, who was twice Israeli prime minister, has held nearly every major office in the country, including that of president, a mostly ceremonial post, from 2007 to 2014.
A former hawk turned dove, the highlight of his career came in 1994, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo accords with the Palestinians.
Peres’s personal physician and son-in-law, Rafi Walden, said the former president’s chances for survival were “pretty good,” with no immediate threat to his life.
He added that Peres was responsive during treatment.
“When we lessened the sedation, he woke up — not completely but definitely was responsive to our appeals to him,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“He squeezed my hand and was definitely listening and understanding what was happening.”
Doctors have decided not to operate for the time being.
Zeev Feldman, president of the Israeli Neurosurgical Association and involved in Peres’ treatment, told Agence France-Presse “the fact that he regained consciousness gives us some cautious optimism”.
“The processes can go wrong in the next 48-72 hours. Some situation may happen and that is why he is in intensive care,” he said.
Peres’s son Chemi told journalists late Tuesday that “we are going to have to take difficult decisions apparently later, but not yet.”
“Myself and my family members are going through difficult times, difficult hours,” he said.
“I know that my father did not care about anything as much as he cares about people, as much as he cares about Israel, the Jewish people, and the people in Israel,” he said.
“And I will take this opportunity on his behalf to send all of you his love.”
Statements of concern flooded in from across the political spectrum and dozens of journalists gathered outside the hospital, Israel’s largest, awaiting word on his condition.
President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement he was “following with concern the updates from the hospital, and pray together with the entire people for my friend Shimon’s recovery.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also wished the elder statesman a rapid recovery.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he was praying for Peres, calling him “a patriarch of peace and progress”.
In January, Peres was hospitalised twice for heart trouble.
In the first instance, the hospital said he had suffered a “mild cardiac event” and underwent catheterisation to widen an artery.
He was rushed to hospital a second time days later with chest pains and an irregular heartbeat.
Peres has sought to maintain an active schedule despite his age, particularly through events related to his Peres Center for Peace.
When leaving hospital on January 19, Peres said he was keen to get back to work.
“I’m so happy to return to work, that was the whole purpose of this operation,” he said.
In March, he met visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.
Peres once confided that the secret to his longevity was daily gymnastics, eating little and drinking one or two glasses of good wine.
Having earlier hawkishly rejected any compromise with hostile Arab states, he said he was converted after 1977, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.
Born in Poland in 1923, Peres emigrated to what was then British mandatory Palestine when he was 11.
He joined the Zionist struggle in the 1940s and while hitchhiking met David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first prime minister.
He became director general of the nascent defence ministry at just 29 years old.
Beyond his accomplishments in the public eye, Peres was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel’s undeclared nuclear program. AFP