Los Angeles Times

BEIT JALA, West Bank Out of work since the Palestinian intifada erupted four months ago, the men at Beit Jala”s main coffee shop played cards yesterday and wondered how much worse things can get under Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon.

“Who is more dangerous, Sharon or Barak?”” mused Hussein Farag. It was lame-duck Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he said, who started “a war”” against the Palestinians. Will Sharon be the one to finish it?

“Sharon is a murderer,”” said Farag”s friend Samir Mitri, a tour guide. “But times change.””

Throughout the Palestinian-ruled West Bank and Gaza Strip, and elsewhere in the Arab world, Sharon”s landslide election and resounding defeat of Barak on Tuesday prompted a gamut of emotions among leaders and ordinary people alike: horror, indifference, defiance, concern.

Even though Barak offered unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians, few were mourning him. Many Arabs have come to blame Barak for the violence that has claimed about 320 Palestinian lives in the past four months. But Sharon inspires dread in many.

Syrian newspapers said Sharon”s victory was a declaration of war. Jordanian officials displayed a wait-and-see attitude, a cautious approach echoed yesterday by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon burned Sharon”s swastika-decorated effigy, and Palestinian militants in the West Bank vowed to press ahead with their armed uprising against Israeli occupation.

Sharon is remembered in the Arab world for leading Israel”s disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon and for his role in massacres of Palestinians, including a 1953 raid on the West Bank village of Kibya and the slaughter by Lebanese Christian militia members of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the refugee camps were under Israeli control.

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