Court asked to indict Sharon over Palestinian massacre

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The Independent Online

Survivors of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in two Lebanese refugee camps asked a Belgian judge today to indict Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for crimes against humanity for his role in the killings.

Twenty–eight survivors presented their case against Sharon – who was defence minister at the time – to an investigating judge, under Belgian laws that permit the country's courts to try war crimes committed abroad.

"Sharon bears personal responsibility in the massacres," said Chibili Mallat, a Lebanese lawyer representing the survivors.

The judge will now determine whether Sharon should face charges for involvement in the killings at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut.

If found legally responsible, Mr Sharon could face a warrant for his arrest to face charges in court, Belgian lawyer Michael Verhaege said.

Mr Verhaege, one of three lawyers representing survivors, said there was sufficient evidence to convict those responsible. The lawyers presented a 52–page file of witness testimony by those who survived the attacks.

"The facts in this case undeniably reveal crimes against humanity," he told reporters. "An arrest warrant is perfectly possible. It is not just Mr Sharon, but for all of those responsible."

He did not name the others who lawyers for the survivors want indicted in the case.

If the Belgian judge decides to press charges, Sharon could technically be arrested if he enters Belgium. However, lawyers said as a serving head of state he would likely enjoy immunity. The plaintiffs said they could also press for similar charges to be pressed against Mr Sharon in other countries, including Spain, Britain and Canada.

Around 800 unarmed civilian Palestinians in the camps were slaughtered by a Lebanese Christian militia allied to the Israelis. Israeli troops encircled Muslim West Beirut and allowed the Christian militias to enter the camps, but Israeli officials say they never expected them to kill the refugees.

An Israeli inquiry into the massacre found Mr Sharon indirectly responsible and he had to resign as defence minister. He made a political comeback and was elected prime minister in February.

"From the first day of the massacre, people have wanted to get something done," said 30–year–old Souad Srour al–Mereh, who was 14 at the time of the massacre.

She said she was raped and shot in the back by the militiamen who left her for dead among the bodies of her slain family members. The attack has left her partially paralyzed with a bullet lodged in her spine.

"I have been waiting for this day for so long ... It was the most horrible moment that I won't ever forget," she said, holding a faded picture of her dead brothers and sisters.