The secrets of the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian camp massacres in 1982 have gone to the grave with yet another former Phalangist militiaman, the third Lebanese to die mysteriously in little more than two months.
Michael Nassar, who was a former associate of Elie Hobeika – the Phalangist leader murdered in a car bombing in Beirut in January – was shot dead in Brazil by a man firing a pistol equipped with a silencer. His young wife, Marie, was shot down beside him.
A Belgian court has postponed a decision over whether to indict Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, for his role in the massacres – he was held "personally responsible" by an Israeli commission of inquiry – while lawyers for the survivors produce more evidence. But the vital evidence that may lie in the memories of those involved with the killers, who were allied to Israel at the time, is disappearing almost by the week as the death list grows.
Nassar grew immensely wealthy from the Lebanese civil war, selling former Phalangist weapons to Croatian militias during the Balkan conflict. One of his ships ended up in the hands of the Serb navy, which sent Nassar a warehouse bill after the guns were impounded. He fled Beirut in 1997 after a Lebanese court demanded he explain his wealth, put at £70m .
Nassar was apparently already worried when he pulled his car into a petrol station in the suburbs of Sao Paolo on Friday; he had used his mobile phone to tell a friend that he was being followed by men in a car. He made a second call – telling his friend that his pursuers seemed to have vanished – just before the gunman fired five bullets into his body and another seven into his wife.
Israel has denied that Hobeika, who had agreed to testify against Mr Sharon less than 24 hours before he was killed, was murdered by its own death squads. The Lebanese authorities say the opposite. Nassar – a nephew of the former general Antoine Lahd who commanded Israel's one-time proxy, the "south Lebanon army militia" – might have been the victim of a Brazilian mafia killing. Certainly, robbery was not the motive.
The first former right-wing Christian to be struck down was one of Hobeika's old colleagues, Jean Ghanem, who drove his car into a tree on New Year's Day. He died after being in a coma for two weeks. Then came Hobeika's murder and now Nassar's. Other former Phalangists live in fear of their lives, either from Israel or from Palestinians seeking revenge for the 1982 massacre in which up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians were slaughtered.
One of them recently said that dozens of Palestinians who survived the massacres were executed at a former barracks near Jounieh, north of the capital, after being held in containers for two weeks. The prisoners had been handed over to the Phalangists, he said, by Israeli troops at the ruined sports stadium in Beirut. The location of their mass grave is known to The Independent.Reuse content