Sharon's absence from world stage prompts conflicting views

In the midst of Ariel Sharon's incapacity, Israel has delivered a very clear warning to those who might try to exploit the situation: the Israeli military is ready to deal with any threats.

In the midst of Ariel Sharon's incapacity, Israel has delivered a very clear warning to those who might try to exploit the situation: the Israeli military is ready to deal with any threats.

World leaders, mostly, expressed their sympathy on Thursday.

U.S. President George W. Bush said Sharon is "a good man, a strong man, a man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people, and a man who had a vision for peace."

Prime Minister Paul Martin issued a statement saying the Israeli leader's "courage and his leadership should inspire us as we all work to bring about the peace that he sought."

Sympathetic statements were also issued from Britain and France.

But in a frank statement, Iran's new prime minister said he hoped Sharon would die. "Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatilla has joined his ancestors is final," he said.

Ahmadinejad has been condemned internationally after denying the Holocaust, and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

In the Rafah refugee camp, there were few kind words for the man most Palestinians see as their enemy. As Sharon struggled to live, some chose to express their disdain by wishing him dead. One man called the Israeli leader's illness "an achievement of Godly justice." Sharon, he said, "has a history soaked in blood."

Palestinians have a litany of complaints against Sharon that go back decades; including complicity in the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, near Beirut, in 1982.

More recently they accuse him of building the barrier between the West Bank and Israel over Palestinian objections. They also point to his refusal to deal directly with Palestinians in achieving peace.

"Sharon was never close to what our agreements indicated - an independent Palestinian state in the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as a capital - and the resolution of the refugee problem. He was always very far away," said Nabil Shaath, a minister in the Palestinian government.

But others say Sharon's departure could lead to more problems for the Palestinians during their election - and during the Israeli election.

"It's clear that Israeli politics now will undergo a period of hard-line policies in the context of elections because during elections the rhetoric will be extremely heightened," said Palestinian politician Hannan Ashrawi.

Sharon was the only Israeli leader to actually return land to the Palestinians when he led Israel out of Gaza and many believe he planned to withdraw from more territories if he had become prime minister again.

Some Palestinians say losing him may set back their aims, while others insist his departure may breathe new life into the Middle East peace process.