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Sharon, Abbas facing backlash

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JERUSALEM — Members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party booed and heckled Sunday night as Sharon endured the latest round of criticism from his traditional right-wing allies in the wake of his proposed concessions to the Palestinians.

"Go home, go home," some Likud members chanted at the party convention here, where they repeatedly interrupted the prime minister's speech. "Sharon surrendered to terrorism," read one of the many anti-Sharon posters in the packed hall.

In Ramallah, just a few miles north of Jerusalem, the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, is facing his own barrage of criticism from hard-liners and moderates alike who accuse him of being too conciliatory toward Israel.

While Sharon is politically strong, and Abbas is vulnerable in his new post, both face mounting internal pressure that is threatening the latest Middle East peace plan before the first steps have been taken to put it into effect.

"The Palestinians are being offered almost everything, and we are getting nothing but violence and incitement," said Yuval Steinitz, a leading Likud member of Parliament, who says he counts himself among among Sharon's supporters. "People are wondering, what will we get in return?"

Sharon has said Israel should not control the 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and said the "occupation" was bad for Israel, using a politically charged word he had never uttered before in public.

After Palestinian shooting attacks on Sunday that killed five Israelis and wounded several more, Israeli officials did not raise the prospect of imminent military action or directly criticize Abbas.

"Politically, Sharon has made a commitment to a moderate position and intends to stick to it," said Asher Arian, an Israeli political analyst.

Abbas is also facing tough going, and he must proceed without the political support base that Sharon has built.

Palestinians have expressed great disappointment that Abbas did not spell out the Palestinian demands for statehood at the summit meeting last week.

Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, said over the weekend that it was not necessary at that time. But he has encountered such broad criticism that he has scheduled a news conference for Monday to defend his position, his first since assuming office in April.

"You will have an internal uproar if this process does not bear fruit," said Dr. Ali B. Jarbawi, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. "If the Israeli government is not going to respond, then they are pushing Abu Mazen into an internal Palestinian confrontation."