Court to rule on whether Sharon should go on trial for war crimes

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The Independent Online

Mohamed Abu Rodeina is waiting for a Belgian court's decision today. His father and uncles were murdered by Israel's Lebanese militiamen in a tiny dirt square surrounded by concrete huts where walls still bear the scars of the bullets that killed them.

And now he sits, just a few metres away, in his own drafty hut in this most awesome of refugee camps – his mother killed by a Muslim Shia sniper only three years after Israel's allies slaughtered most of his family – waiting to know if Ariel Sharon will be indicted for these war crimes.

"I had no life after that," he says. "I was a child and my father was taken from me and my uncles were taken from me and my mother never got over that. I have had no life. Someone should pay – Sharon."

After the slaughter of up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians in September 1982, an Israeli commission of inquiry decided the defence minister, Ariel Sharon – now Prime Minister of Israel – was "personally responsible" for the bloodbath.

Last month, the World Court in The Hague suggested the Belgian court could not try Mr Sharon. But the man whose F-16s and gunboats and tanks are now smashing the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza is not off the hook.

Even if the Belgian Criminal Court of Appeals decides there is no case for indictment, lawyers for the survivors of the camps massacre plan to appeal to the higher Cassation court in Brussels.

They have also asked for a postponement of the criminal tribunal's ruling to introduce arguments over the World Court's statement and – more ominously for Mr Sharon -- fresh evidence that suggests hundreds of Palestinian civilians were murdered by Christian Phalangist militiamen weeks later after being handed over to them by Israeli troops.

In Sabra and Chatila, where many survivors who watched the slaughter of their families still live amid open drains and rat-crawling garbage tips, there was dismay when the World Court's ruling was followed by a statement from the legal adviser to the Belgian Foreign Minister, who said that the international tribunal's decision ruled out any indictment against Mr Sharon in Brussels.

It now turns out, however, that the Foreign Ministry has no right to influence the criminal court, and lawyers for the plaintiffs – the survivors who lost their families or who were wounded or raped by Israel's allies – have decided to make their appeal to the higher court the moment the lower court rejects an indictment.

But it may not do that. The three lawyers, the Belgian advocates Michael Verhaeghe and Luc Walleyn, and the indefatigable Chibli Mallat of Lebanon, have already formally asked the court for a postponement of its decision so they can produce further arguments and evidence.

Mr Mallat described the intervention of the Belgian Foreign Ministry's legal adviser as "bizarre" yesterday, adding that he had no power to decide on the case.

He said: "Ours is not a coercive case – we know Mr Sharon cannot be arrested in Belgium at the moment because he is a head of state.

"We agree with the World Court that Mr Sharon possesses diplomatic immunity but we have further evidence about Sabra and Chatila and what happened to many victims who disappeared after they were handed over to the Israelis and we wish to make our own arguments about the World Court's ruling."

Should the Belgian criminal court rule that an indictment can go ahead, you can be sure it will be Mr Sharon who will then take his opportunity to appeal to the higher court.

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