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(photo credit: AP)
"We are all human beings and we are all sorry about Sharon's demise...We will of course negotiate with whoever leads Israel," said Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday.
"We don't try to tell them who should lead their negotiations. Of course, we don't interfere in internal Israeli politics, but the fact is that if someone sneezes inside Israel, we Palestinians immediately catch a cold.
"The Palestinian elections will be held as scheduled at the end of this month, provided that Ehud Olmert was not so foolish as to prevent Palestinians from voting in East Jerusalem. Delaying the elections would only make Hamas stronger."
He estimated that Hamas would get at least 25-30 percent of support, but said that it was healthy for the Palestinian Authority to
have genuine opposition and that Hamas in Parliament would have to mature and would not be allowed to maintain its own army.
Earlier in the day French President Jacques Chirac sent get-well wishes to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon following his brain hemorrhage and said Thursday that the ailing leader's "courageous" peace efforts must continue.
Chirac "hopes the Israeli prime minister will overcome the painful trial he is going through," the president's office said in a statement.
France also offered full support and friendship to Ehud Olmert, Sharon's deputy who is acting as premier in his place, the statement added.
The French president also said he hoped "the courageous initiatives that Mr. Sharon embarked on, which were praised by the entire international community, will continue."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised Sharon Thursday as a "towering figure, not only in Israel, but in the entire Middle East," and wished him a speedy recovery.
US President George W. Bush praised Ariel Sharon on Wednesday night as "a man of courage and peace" and said he was praying for the prime minister to recover.
Bush said in a written statement that he and first lady Laura Bush "share the concerns of the Israeli people ... and we are praying for his recovery."
"On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the prime minister and his family," the president said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said much the same in a statement, wishing Sharon a full recovery.
However, Palestinian sources said Thursday that the US envoys have cancelled their visit.