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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 17:30 GMT
Palestinians mixed over Sharon
Palestinian children celebrate news of Ariel Sharon's ill-health
Palestinian children celebrate news of Ariel Sharon's ill-health
Palestinians have reacted with a mixture of apprehension and delight at the news of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's grave illness.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he was following the crisis "with great concern" but insisted it would not affect the forthcoming elections.

Some Palestinians had kind words for a man who led Israel's disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

But many had little sympathy for a man widely despised in the Arab World.

What happens to Sharon affects Israel first of all and has repercussions for the region but will not lead to a delay in the Palestinian elections
Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian leader

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says he has come across one or two Palestinians who hope Mr Sharon will recover.

But the overwhelming emotion directed towards the Israeli prime minister is of the harshest kind, our correspondent adds.

One man said they were waiting for Mr Sharon to die, and another said he had only one message for the ailing 77-year-old: "Go, Sharon, Go."

Children in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza handed out sweets in celebration.

Militant group Hamas described him as "one of the world's worst leaders". A spokesman said the whole region would be better off with Mr Sharon absent than with him present.

Fears for peace process

But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said the Palestinian people would pray for Mr Sharon's recovery.

"We are looking all the time for a leader in Israel to be in favour of peace and ready to sit with Palestinians to start very serious and credible negotiations," he said.

Palestinians take the morning papers in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Palestinians read the morning papers with interest

His words were echoed by Mr Abbas, who said: "What happens to Sharon affects Israel first of all and has repercussions for the region but will not lead to a delay in the Palestinian elections."

He added Mr Sharon's hospitalisation was "an important and serious event" and the Palestinian leadership was "following with great concern any harm that may come to him."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the BBC's The World at One programme of his concerns the effect Mr Sharon's absence might have on the peace process.

"I'm really worried that the competition to replace Mr Sharon will be marred with more escalation against the Palestinians whether in the form of assassinations, arrests, incursions of settlements and that worries me a lot," he said.

Palestinian deputy leader Nabil Shaath also agreed that Mr Sharon's illness would "increase the uncertainty we are facing to get back to the peace process".

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestinian parliament, said she believed Mr Sharon's departure from Israeli politics would usher in a more hardline approach.

"It's clear that Israeli politics now will undergo a period of hardline policies in the context of elections, because during elections the rhetoric will be extremely heightened," she told the BBC.

Palestinian labour minister Ghassan Khatib said Mr Sharon's illness was a "significant development", but fell short of paying tribute to him.

"Ariel Sharon is definitely one of the most important political personalities in the Middle East so his absence is a very significant development," he said.

But he said Mr Sharon had achieved neither peace nor security, and had not moved the peace process forward, so his absence would not be bad news for the prospects for peace.

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