Palestinian leaders express 'concern' as Arab media focuses on PM's condition.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
As official wishes for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speedy recovery flooded in to Israel from far corners of the earth, Palestinian spokesmen added their comments, but refrained from joining many world leaders in lauding Sharon's deeds as a peacemaker.
"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.
A few hours earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas contacted Israeli officials to express concern over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's deteriorating health, Abbas's office said.
"President Abbas phoned Israeli officials over the health deterioration of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and he voiced his concern about his health," said an Abbas aide, Nabil Abu Rdeineh.
Also Thursday, two Arab television channels prematurely reported that Sharon had died Thursday as Arab media competed with each other in coverage of the hospital condition of the Israeli leader.
The reports by Lebanon's Future Television and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV were not confirmed by Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where Sharon was being treated. Minutes after the announcements, the channels went back to reporting the latest medical bulletins on the ailing prime minister.
In the almost 24 hours following Sharon's hospitalization, pan-Arab satellite television broadcasters beamed out largely straightforward, nonstop live coverage from outside the Jerusalem hospital where Sharon struggled for his life.
But a radical Palestinian leader in Damascus called Sharon's health crisis a gift from God.
"We say it frankly that God is great and is able to exact revenge on this butcher. ... We thank God for this gift he presented to us on this new year," Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Syrian-backed faction Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a small radical group, told the Associated Press.
He said Sharon's legacy would be one of huge damage inflicted on the Palestinian people.
A Palestinian commentator on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network offered Sharon unexpected praise as "the first Israeli leader who stopped claiming Israel had a right to all of the Palestinian's land," a reference to Israeli's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
"A living Sharon is better for the Palestinians now, despite all the crimes he has committed against us," said Ghazi al-Saadi.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera aired an extended interview with Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin, who explained the Israeli leader's condition and treatment.
In Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, a key Hamas figure, told AP he saw no justification for postponing the Palestinian vote because of the political turmoil in Israel.
"On the contrary, it could be an opportunity for the Palestinians to take advantage of the jolt caused by Sharon's absence to conduct an election away from pressures. Sharon out of the picture is a way out for Palestinians to escape the pressures," he said.
In Beirut, a newspaper editor said he feared Sharon's absence from the scene could lead to more Israeli-Palestinian violence.
"This is a big event," said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper. If Sharon dies, it "could lead to the postponement of the Palestinian elections and the Israeli elections and possibly could lead to a security deterioration," he told AP.
He predicted, however, the repercussions would largely be limited to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It's a quake, whose aftershocks will be local - Israeli and Palestinian - because the (Mideast) conflict has become a Palestinian-Israeli one," Noureddine told AP.
Ali Badwan, a Palestinian living in Damascus, said Sharon was "the dinosaur of the Israeli political right and his legacy was the bloodiest of any Israeli against the Palestinian people. ... The Palestinian people would not mourn his passing from the political scene."
Palestinian refugee camps were quiet in Syria and Lebanon on Wednesday night, with many residents engrossed in television coverage of Sharon's illness.
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