Jerusalem In advance of a White House visit, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged Palestinians on Monday to overthrow their leadership, calling it a "despotic regime that is leading you from failure to failure."
Sharon's unyielding stance with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has won the broad endorsement of President Bush, who has also called for Arafat to be replaced.
But Sharon, making his seventh White House visit in 18 months, could face hard questions from a U.S. administration that has chastised him for failing to follow through with pledges to ease blockades and curfews imposed on many Palestinian cities.
In the West Bank after nightfall Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians, Palestinian security officials said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two were members of the violent Islamic Jihad. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Sharon, who left Israel early today and meets Bush on Wednesday in Washington, has defended the security measures as essential to prevent, or at least limit, Palestinian suicide bombings and shooting attacks.
"Your terrible suffering is needless," Sharon said, addressing his remarks to Palestinians in a speech that inaugurated the winter session of Israel's parliament.
Sharon charged that "murderous terror gangs" have taken over the Palestinian territories with Arafat's encouragement and consent. "Change the despotic regime that is leading you from failure to failure, from tragedy to tragedy."
The Israeli leader has spoken in favor of exiling Arafat and sent Israeli troops to Arafat's offices three times this year. But Sharon has stopped short of kicking out the Palestinian leader, with the United States and the Israeli security services both arguing against such a move.
The Israeli military actions have given Arafat's popularity at least a short-term boost, as Palestinians have rallied around him.
The Palestinians have tentatively scheduled general elections in January but Israel's occupation of West Bank cities has raised questions about whether the balloting can take place. No serious challenger has arisen to take on Arafat, who since last December has rarely left his battered headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinians deeply distrust Sharon, and officials were sharply critical of his latest call to oust Arafat.
"This is arrogant and shameless," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said of Sharon's speech. "As far as the Palestinian people are concerned, they don't need to listen to Sharon's advice they need to save themselves from Sharon's bullets and bombs."