Former prime minister Ariel Sharon turns 80

Family quietly marks comatose leader's birthday; says occasion marred by son's impending incarceration.

sharon prayer 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
sharon prayer 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Family members gathered around the hospital bed of comatose former prime minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday to mark his 80th birthday. The family did not speak to the press, but sources close to them said they did not intend to mark the occasion in any special way, perhaps aside from bringing "something symbolic" to the hospital. Friends of the family said on Tuesday that the occasion would be further marred by the prospect of Sharon's son, former MK Omri Sharon, beginning to serve his prison sentence this week. Omri Sharon pleaded guilty to illegal fund raising in 2005. His appeals were rejected and he was sentenced to nine months in prison and given a nine-month suspended sentence. Slideshow: Ariel Sharon After serving as prime minister for five years, Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke on 5 January 2006, falling as a result into a state of perennial coma. His incapacitation led to the election of his deputy Ehud Olmert to the Kadima leadership, and to premiership soon after. After the stroke, Sharon was first hospitalized at the Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. In February 2006 he was treated for gangrene in his digestive tract, a part of which had to be removed. He was then moved to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, where he remains hospitalized to this day at the local respiratory rehabilitation center. Dov Weisglass, formerly Sharon's top adviser, said Tuesday there had been little change in his condition over the past year: He is breathing without the help of machines and his vital signs are good, which means his current state could continue for some time. As for the chance that Sharon will ever emerge from his coma, Weisglass said, "I understand that the doctors are not optimistic." AP contributed to this report