The killing on Saturday of Abdel Aziz Rantissi sparked violent demonstrations yesterday across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as in Arab countries, and drew international condemnation.
But the Israeli Prime Minister pointedly congratulated his security forces for the assassination, which is widely regarded as part of his preparations for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while keeping major settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Mr Sharon is determined to prove his decision should not be seen as an act of weakness. And he must win the support of his ruling Likud party before it holds a referendum on the plan on May 2.
While Mr Sharon appeared to be winning support among right-wingers, the Left warned that Israel would suffer dire consequences for the killing.
The assassination has undermined moderate Palestinian figures and isolated Israel abroad. The US remains one of the few countries not to condemn the latest killing.