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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent non-invasive therapy at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer yesterday to smash stones in his urinary tract and was to be sent home last night for recuperation, which consists of rest.

Due to the treatment yesterday, Sharon's appointments for the day were canceled and a visit by two U.S. envoys, Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams, who were to be briefed this week by the prime minister on his disengagement plan, was postponed to next week.

Sharon felt some pain on Saturday night but went to work on Sunday, conducting the weekly cabinet meeting and holding working meetings with the foreign minister, defense minister and chief of staff. But by afternoon he was in such discomfort that it was decided to take him to hospital for a checkup, where the kidney stone problem was found and the treatment was decided on.

The Prime Minister's Office chose to issue a formal statement yesterday morning about the expected procedure last night because it wanted to avoid any rumors or speculation that might have erupted upon the appearance of the prime minister at one of the country's hospitals.

As has often happened in the past in Israel, the surprise announcement about the prime minister's medical condition sparked debate about the need for more transparency about the health of the political leadership.

According to experts, the recovery period after kidney stones have been smashed is directly dependent on the size of the stones. Prof Daniel Yihiye, head of urology at Hillel Yaffeh Hospital in Hadera, said last night that "there are procedures that begin in the morning and by afternoon the patient is back at work and there are those where the recovery period is much longer, because of the time it takes to pass the stones."

He said stones in the urinary tract form in the kidney as a result of crystallization of salts in urine. "It begins with a small grain and grows, like stalactites in a cave. There are people with genetic tendencies for crystallization of salt and there are people who suffer from kidney stones because of fat."

The pain is a result of the stone being stuck in a urinary tract as the body tries to expel it. There are many ways to treat the problem, ranging from bombarding the affected area with waves of heat to the use of lasers, said the doctor, explaining that the treatment is always to smash the stones small enough for the body to expel them with urine.

According to Yihiye, recovery from treatment consists entirely of rest.