Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was taken Friday to an intensive care unit after his overall condition and heart function deteriorated, a spokesman for the hospital said Friday.

Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a major stroke in January, contracted a new infection that affected his heart, said David Weinberg, a spokesman for the Chaim Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.

"At this point, his condition is stable," Weinberg said.

Experts have speculated that because of the severity of his stroke, Sharon, Israel's prime minister from 2001 to 2006, is unlikely to recover.

Sharon, 78, has undergone several extensive brain operations to stop cerebral hemorrhaging, in addition to more minor procedures.

He had a first, small stroke in December and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain hemorrhage on Jan. 4. After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Sheba hospital in May.

He was rushed into intensive care in July for dialysis after his kidneys began failing, but was transferred back to Sheba's respiratory rehabilitation department after his condition improved.

Sharon lapsed into a coma just months after he ended Israel's 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip, and shook up Israel's political map by bolting his hard-line Likud Party to form the centrist Kadima faction.

After the stroke, Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, led Kadima to victory in a March 28 vote and became prime minister.

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