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Some Palestinians fear Sharon win; others shrug

Likud leader predicted to beat Barak in Tuesday election

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Sharon is not 'coming to plant roses'

Hamas vows to fight regardless

Some Palestinians have few hopes


GAZA CITY, Gaza -- Senior Palestinian peace negotiator Nabil Sha'ath voiced alarm at the prospect of Ariel Sharon winning Tuesday's election as Israeli prime minister, saying Sharon might plunge the Middle East into deeper turmoil.

Still, Sha'ath and other Palestinian officials agreed they would have to deal with the 72-year-old Likud party leader if he defeats Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as opinion polls predict.

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"There is an anxiety among the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership, given the man's history," Sha'ath told Reuters.

Sharon, who led in the pre-election opinion polls by as much as 20 percentage points over Barak, is a former defense minister and is viewed as Israel's leading security hawk. Many consider the election a referendum on how Israel will deal the Palestinians.

"It does not look like he is the man who would push the peace process forward. He might, and, in fact, he looks like the man who is going to destabilize our area," said Sha'ath, who is also a Palestinian Cabinet minister.

He said the views Sharon had put forward in the run-up to the election cast doubt on the future of peacemaking.

"If he is elected, and if he continues to push the same backward and regressive ideas he was pushing during his campaign, I do not see how this peace process can go forward," Sha'ath said.

Other Palestinians, however, see little difference between Sharon and Barak. On the dusty streets of the Palestinian territories, Israel's election is being met with indifference and resignation.

Sharon is not 'coming to plant roses'

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, secretary-general of the Palestinian Authority, said Sharon might modify his stance once in power.

"Of course we reject what he is saying now as a candidate for prime minister. ... but when he is the prime minister, something should be changed," Abdel-Rahman told Reuters.

Marwan Kanafani, a media adviser to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, is concerned that Sharon will "come with more aggression" against Palestinians.

"We don't think that Mr. Sharon is coming to plant roses ... on the road between here and Jerusalem," Kanafani said.

Sha'ath said Palestinians would have to deal with Sharon as prime minister, whatever their reservations.

"He (Sharon) is going to be the representative of the state of Israel, the prime minister elected by his own people for whatever reason. ... we have to deal with him," he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, said the Palestinian leadership's fear of Sharon is exaggerated.

"Sharon may be brutal, but so is Barak," Ashrawi said. "Sharon will offer, in terms of the peace process, less than Barak ... what Barak could not deliver, certainly Sharon will not deliver.

"I think that this exaggerated fear of Sharon or this exaggerated confidence in Barak -- both are entirely unrealistic," she said.

Hamas vows to fight, regardless

Palestinians revile Sharon as the architect of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which led to the massacre by pro-Israeli Lebanese militia of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Beirut. An Israeli inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the slaughter.

But many also condemn Barak for ordering troops to use what the U.N. General Assembly has criticized as excessive force to quell the ongoing four-month spate of violence between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, said Barak and Sharon were cut from the same cloth. "The two men have Palestinian blood on their hands," he told Reuters.

Yassin vowed that Hamas, which opposes Israeli-Palestinian peace deals, would fight on whoever was Israel's leader.

"We will use all means to resist the aggression regardless of who heads that entity," he said.

Hamas has in the past claimed responsibility for several suicide bomb attacks that killed or hurt scores of Israelis.

Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab warned that Palestinian leaders' perceived preference for Barak will backfire.

"It's a big mistake when the Palestinian Authority tries to bet on (the) loser. It will lose," Shanab said. "So, all the time, they bet on the loser, and they lost."

Some Palestinians have few hopes

On the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli-Palestinian violence has resulted in a grim routine of gunfire and death, funerals and rage. The bitterness that many Palestinians feel is not against the current or future Israeli leader, but against Israel itself.

Ordinary Palestinians said Barak had failed to win their trust because peace talks had been suspended amid the bloodshed and an independent state has yet to be established.

"We have tried Barak, and we faced killings and suffering. We are not sure Sharon would represent a bigger danger to the peace process," said Abdel-Raouf Barbakh, 27, from Rafah in southern Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian demonstrators burned effigies of Barak and Sharon, witnesses said.

Israel Defense Forces sealed off Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday as Israelis went to the polls. The Palestinian Fatah movement said Tuesday would be a "day of rage."

Israel said its troops were fired on at Rafah, in southern Gaza near the Israeli-Egyptian border, and that soldiers had returned fire. No injuries were reported.

In Gaza, shopkeeper Fuad Al-Soufi, 30, said he trusted neither Israeli candidate to make peace. "There is no sheep within the herd of wolves. Both Sharon and Barak are a curse to peace," he said.

"They're all the same," another Palestinian told CNN. "Sharon is a butcher, and so is Barak. This peace just isn't working."

Added another: "We want someone who will leave us alone."

CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this article.

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Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Knesset, The Israeli Parliament
Meretz Party
Avoda (Labour) Party
World Economic Forum
Palestinian National Authority
PLO Negotiations Affairs Department
Israel Defense Forces
Palestinian Red Crescent
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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