JERUSALEM – Israeli critics from all sides decried Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday 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 the Palestinian territories, leaving three Palestinians and an Israeli soldier dead.
After nightfall Monday, Israeli soldiers evicted families from an apartment building across from Arafat's office, and snipers took up positions inside, Palestinians said, the third building the Israelis have taken over. The military had no immediate comment. Though it withdrew from the compound, Israel said it would still seek to arrest wanted Palestinians inside.
Sharon was in Moscow on Monday as the criticism swirled over the decision the day before to pull troops out of Palestinian leader Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Some said 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 Maariv.
A new threat to his coalition emerged at a convention of his senior partner, the moderate Labor Party, over a domestic issue -- the state budget. Sharon has said that if the budget is not passed by the end of October, he will call an election.
Labor members of the Cabinet had already decided to support the budget -- and thus stay in the government -- partly because the possibility of a U.S. war with Iraq makes it an awkward time to display political divisions. However, party delegates on Monday voted to force their ministers to convene another convention to report on the budget negotiations before the vote in parliament, challenging the authority of the party leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Outbursts of violence continued in Palestinian areas.
In the West Bank city of Nablus an Israeli soldier was killed and another seriously wounded when gunmen fired on soldiers from a nearby building, the army said. The soldiers returned fire and black smoke was seen rising from the building. Palestinian security officials said a 10-year-old boy was shot and killed, but it was not clear if this was in the same incident.
Earlier, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was shot to death in a refugee camp next to Nablus, and a 43-year-old Palestinian woman was reportedly in a coma after tank shells hit her home in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Early Tuesday, a Palestinian was killed by tank fire in Gaza after militants threw grenades at Israeli forces just outside the Gaza Strip, witnesses said. The man, 50, was a guard at a garage. Israeli forces looking for the attackers lit the sky with flares and fired machine guns. The Islamic Jihad, claiming responsibility, said the attackers returned safely.
In Beitunia, a suburb of Ramallah , 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.
At Arafat's Ramallah compound, Palestinian workers began cleaning up the debris in Arafat's compound, where Israeli forces had smashed most of the buildings in retaliation for a Sept. 19 bus bombing in Tel Aviv that killed six Israelis. The Israelis were out of sight of the compound Monday.
Arafat demanded that Israeli troops pull back further and said Israel must now implement the remainder of last week's U.N. Security Council resolution -- a withdrawal from Palestinian cities and towns.
Israel has said it cannot do this until it is certain that terror attacks will not resume.
Israel ended the siege on Sunday after the Security Council measure and repeated U.S. complaints that the issue was distracting from American efforts to win support for a crackdown on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"We didn't consider (last week) how much the United States has already started counting down to the strike against Iraq," said Housing Minister Natan Sharansky. "The decision was made in haste, and this is the result."
Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu complained that Sharon should have taken even stronger action against Arafat by deporting him and forcing Palestinians to develop other leaders. "If Arafat is deported to Paris or Tehran, he will really be irrelevant," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
Dovish Israeli politicians accused the government of blundering into the siege without a plan for ending it and without foreseeing its predictable result.
Polls showed that Arafat emerged strengthened from the blockade, which Palestinians said temporarily froze efforts by others in the Palestinian leadership to force him to share power and appoint a prime minister.
Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Arafat would resume consultations on a new Cabinet to replace the ministers forced to resign earlier this month as part of an effort by members of Arafat's Fatah movement to push Arafat to share power.
"Definitely, there should be a new Cabinet as soon as possible," Abu Rdeneh said.