Palestinians Celebrate Death of Former PM Sharon
As Israelis mourn the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leaders from both the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement celebrated his death, with a senior official labelling him a "criminal" and accusing him of being responsible for the death in 2004 of former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.
"Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal," said Jibril Rajub, a senior official of the Fatah party.
Arafat died in France in November on November 11, 2004, while Sharon, who died on Saturday had been in coma since 2006. Although numerous scientific investigations have revealed that Arafat died of natural causes, Arab media and politicians still regularly embrace conspiracy theories claiming that his death was an Israeli "assassination".
During the 2000-2005 Second Intifada, when Arab terrorists regularly targeted Israeli civilians in deadly terrorist attacks, then-PM Sharon undertook an intensive counterterrorism campaign in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The campaign - including Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 - was largely successful in crippling the terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, giving Israelis some respite but cementing his status as a nemesis of Palestinian terrorist groups.
Sharon also spearheaded a campaign of targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders. Among those killed was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group which calls for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jewish people.
Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of Israel's 2005 "Disengagement", also under Sharon's leadership, hailed Sharon's death as a "historic moment," marking the "disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood."
"We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," said Sami Abu Zurhi, a spokesman for the terrorist group. "Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."
Left-wing groups also joined in the fray, lamenting that the former general had not been prosecuted over the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.
"It's a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The attack on a Palestinian Arab refugee camp in Lebanon was carried out by Lebanese Christian militiamen, known as "Phalangists", in revenge for the assassination of their leader. Sharon was "indirectly blamed" for not preventing the attack and eventually was forced to resign from his position as Defense Minister.