JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was criticized from all sides yesterday for his handling of the siege of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, after U.S. pressure forced him to pull back Israeli troops and end the 10-day standoff.
Meanwhile, violence flared in Nablus, West Bank, where Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys, ages 10 and 11, Palestinian officials said. Israeli soldiers enforcing a curfew in the city and a neighboring refugee camp clashed first with stone-throwing youths, then with Palestinian gunmen, witnesses said.
Mr. Sharon was in Moscow yesterday as the criticism swirled over the decision the day before to pull troops out of the Palestinian leader’s compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Some said Mr. Sharon and his government had underestimated Washington’s determination to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from undermining the campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
“Sharon is leaving behind a colossal failure, the most notable failure since the beginning of his term in office,” commentator Hemi Shalev wrote in the newspaper Ma’ariv.
Outbursts of violence continued in Palestinian areas.
Gunfire broke out yesterday in downtown Nablus. Witnesses said Palestinian gunmen apparently fired on soldiers and that the Israelis fired back. Black smoke rose from one building. Helicopters and military ambulances arrived at the scene.
Earlier, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus when soldiers enforcing a curfew fired from tanks at children who threw stones while on their way to school, doctors said. The military said soldiers had fired at a youth who was about to throw a firebomb.
In Nablus, a 10-year-old boy was fatally shot, and 25 persons were injured when soldiers fired at people throwing stones, Palestinian security officials and witnesses said. The military had no comment.
An Associated Press photographer, Nasser Ishtayeh, was slightly injured in the foot by shrapnel during the clashes.
In the Ramallah suburb of Beitunia, Israeli tanks and troops surrounded a house where a Palestinian militant lives, Palestinian security said. Tanks fired shells at the house and demanded that everyone inside come out, they said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
In the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, a 43-year-old Palestinian woman was comatose after two Israeli tank shells hit her home, doctors and her brother said. Palestinians said the shells were fired without provocation. Israel’s military denied firing. It said soldiers shot assault rifles after mortar shells fell near an army post.
Israel ended the siege on Sunday, after a U.N. Security Council measure and repeated U.S. complaints that the issue was distracting from American efforts to win support for a crackdown on Saddam.
Last week, “we didn’t consider how much the United States has already started counting down to the strike against Iraq,” Housing Minister Natan Sharansky said. “The decision was made in haste, and this is the result.”
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained that Mr. Sharon should have taken even stronger action against Mr. Arafat by deporting him and forcing Palestinians to look for other leaders.