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'He is a war criminal and he should die violently'
By Harry de Quetteville in Jerusalem
(Filed: 07/01/2006)

Riven by violence and factional infighting, Palestinians were united yesterday in their loathing of the ailing Ariel Sharon.

As Mr Sharon underwent further surgery yesterday, there was no sympathy from Palestinians for whom his legacy is anything but the peace, courage and leadership for which he has been feted since falling ill.

For them, the list of his achievements is more brutal and violent.

"Sharon is a war criminal, a killer," said Saaed Hamani, in his fifties, who was turned back by Israeli border guards as he tried to enter east Jerusalem to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"Dogs can pass to Jerusalem but not us. How can we remember with anything but animosity and hatred?"

The "separation barrier", which snakes through the West Bank and has choked Palestinians' freedom of movement, is a focus of hatred, and yesterday there was nothing but vitriol for the man who ordered it built.

"He mustn't die in hospital," said Feras Astoun, a resident of east Jerusalem.

"As he killed so many Palestinians, so must he be killed. He should die violently. It is the unfortunate truth but most people feel this way."

A minority of Palestinians have echoed the concerns of their president Mahmoud Abbas, however, and tempered their hatred of Mr Sharon with a pragmatic assessment of his ability to impose some kind of peace.

"Sharon is to blame for a lot of Palestinian misery," said Rajaee Abdul Hamid, 32, who lives in the shadow of the wall, and of the continually expanding Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem.

"But despite the house demolitions, killings, arrests and the wall, his vision is more practical for reaching a peace settlement than other Israeli leaders."

Mr Hamid said a return to power by Benjamin Netanyahu would shatter the process.

Militants, such as Hamas, have greeted Mr Sharon's health problems with glee.

"The Middle East is a much more comfortable place without Sharon," said Hamas spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri. "He never added anything positive to the region."

In Ramallah, Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian minister, said: "Sharon achieved neither peace nor security for his people or ours. He simply managed to convince the world that avoiding negotiations by imposing a unilateral policy was fair."

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