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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 11:43 GMT
Arab media ponder Sharon legacy
By Sebastian Usher
BBC World media correspondent

A Palestinian reads the news about Ariel Sharon's health
Ariel Sharon's illness has gripped the Middle East
The extensive coverage the Arab media have devoted to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's battle for survival has reflected his key role in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past 50 years.

Much of the reporting on TV, radio and in the press has been relatively straightforward and muted, with little outright glorying in the travails of a man hated throughout the Arab world.

There has even been grudging recognition by some Arab commentators of his stature as a political figure, with at least one writer bemoaning the fact that the Arab world does not have anyone equal to him.

Mr Sharon's recent switch to trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through peace rather than conflict is also noted, although there remains plenty of scepticism over just how genuine it was.

It is not surprising that some frustrated Palestinians celebrate Sharon's stroke
Editorial in al-Quds al-Arabi

Palestinian loathing of Mr Sharon has also been widely expressed, with some of those interviewed in Palestinian towns or refugee camps regretting not that Mr Sharon appears close to death but that his fate has not been more painful and extreme.

The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an independent newspaper with a fiercely anti-American and anti-Israeli line, has room in its headline for the detail that Palestinians are distributing sweets as they rejoice over Mr Sharon's illness.

Commitment to peace

Inside, the paper shows Palestinian children holding up placards - one with a slogan reading: "Die, Sharon, the killer of our children," and another saying: "Sharon, go to hell."

"It is not surprising that some frustrated Palestinians celebrate Sharon's stroke... the man was a horrible and bloody nightmare for them, inside and outside the Occupied Territories," the paper's editorial reads.

Al-Quds al-Arabi does, however, see some cause for hope in the end of the Sharon era.

[Mr Sharon was the] first Israeli leader to stop claiming Israel has a right to all the Palestinians' land
Palestinian commentator on al-Arabiya TV

"Sharon's political and perhaps physical death will mark the fall of the Zionist ideology and the emergence of a new ideology based on reality and tolerance, participation and peaceful co-existence," it says.

Scepticism over the genuineness of Mr Sharon's commitment to peace is echoed in another London-based paper, al-Hayat - one of the most respected in the Arab world.

Its cartoon does show Mr Sharon as a dove, but one who is trussed up in armour and dreaming of blood.

"It's clear that those who care about peace have never seen anything peaceful coming from this man. They only witnessed his massacres and crimes," one of the al-Hayat's commentators writes.

There is criticism in al-Hayat and other Arab papers of Western leaders for building Mr Sharon up as a man of peace, and concern that his successor may turn out to be a hardliner like Likud's former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Anti-Sharon comments

But there is also some recognition of Mr Sharon's stature both in Israel and on the world stage.

Palestinian shopkeepers watch the news about Ariel Sharon's health
Arab TV has reported a wide range of opinion on Sharon's legacy

This has been clear from the special coverage devoted to his battle for survival by Arab news channels, such as al-Jazeera and Dubai-based al-Arabiya.

They have been following every development with live reports from the hospital where Mr Sharon is being treated and interviews with some Israeli officials and analysts.

One of Mr Sharon's closest advisers, Ranaan Gissin, gave a long interview to al-Jazeera.

One Palestinian commentator told al-Arabiya that Mr Sharon was the "first Israeli leader to stop claiming Israel has a right to all the Palestinians' land".

But the Arab networks have also broadcast fierce anti-Sharon comments.

On al-Jazeera, a member of Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said Mr Sharon's death would "free us of a murderous butcher".

Grudging admiration

Al-Arabiya carried a report from the Palestinian camp of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, where hundreds were killed by a Lebanese militia during the Israeli invasion in 1982.

If he were an Arab leader and behaved as he has done in Israel, he would have been the idol of the masses from the Atlantic to the Gulf
Commentary in al-Dustur

Mr Sharon was the driving force behind the invasion and he is still blamed for the massacre by most Arabs.

The station's reporter noted that refugees there were greeting his struggle for survival with no great sadness, with some even wishing that his suffering were more extreme.

But a certain, strange sort of respect has been apparent even among those denouncing Mr Sharon.

One Palestinian listed what he described as Mr Sharon's crimes and then said he wished the Arab world had a leader like him.

Several Arab papers sound a similar note.

"Courage and objectivity require us to admit that Ariel Sharon has lived all his life for his people's benefit," a commentary in Jordan's al-Dustur reads.

"If he were an Arab leader and behaved as he has done in Israel, he would have been the idol of the masses from the Atlantic to the Gulf."

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