Court delays ruling on Sharon charges

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The Independent Online

An appeals court is expected to decide early next year whether Belgium has jurisdiction to bring war crimes charges against Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, over the Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982.

Magistrates have suspended the investigation of the case, which was brought against Mr Sharon by a group of Palestinians, pending the ruling.

The appeals court was hearing a bid by lawyers for Mr Sharon, 73, to contest the jurisdiction of a Belgian court to hear the case. Mr Sharon's lawyers dispute any lifting of his diplomatic immunity.

Public prosecutor Pierre Morlet argued yesterday that a Belgian court could take on such a case despite the objections. The prosecutor dis-missed arguments that inter- national law constrained the universal jurisdiction Belgian law gives the country's courts to hear cases of crimes against humanity.

Twenty eight Palestinians are suing the Israeli prime minister for his alleged role in the massacre by Israeli-backed Lebanese militiamen at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps near Israeli-occupied Beirut.

An Israeli inquiry in 1983 found Sharon, a former general, indirectly responsible for the massacre, forcing him to resign as defence minister over the affair.

After the first session of the appeals hearing yesterday, the court spokesman, Guy Delvoie, said: "We will likely see a decision at the end of January."

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