Car crash adds to Lebanese suspicion of Israeli cover-up

Robert Fisk@indyvoices
Friday 01 February 2002 01:00

Did Jean Ghanem hold the secrets of the testimony on the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre that Elie Hobeika planned to reveal about Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, before Hobeika's assassination in Beirut last week?

If he did, we shall never know them – because Mr Ghanem, once Hobeika's political deputy, died only four days before Hobeika, two weeks after a mysterious car accident in east Beirut.

Mr Ghanem, a medical doctor who became a Phalangist party official and served under Hobeika's ruthless command, is rumoured to have held documents that his former boss intended to present to Belgian lawyers in their attempt to indict Mr Sharon for his involvement in the massacre in which up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians were killed. But on New Year's Day, Mr Ghanem, who was only 56 and with no history of heart problems, drove his car into a tree in the suburb of Hazmieh – only a few hundred metres from the spot where Hobeika was killed by a car bomb last week.

Mr Ghanem's wife was badly hurt in the crash and remains in hospital. He died on 14 January after lying in a coma for two weeks. Hospital officials said he had had a heart attack. But now Lebanon's judicial police plan to ask Mrs Ghanem if she wishes to exhume her husband's body for a second autopsy and Nabih Berri, the Lebanese parliament speaker, says that the death of Mr Ghanem – who was also second in command of Hobeika's Al Waad party – may be linked to Hobeika's murder.

Another of Hobeika's former militia buddies, Karim Pakradouni, who is now head of the Phalange Party, says the same thing.

Lebanon blamed Israel for Hobeika's murder – which Mr Sharon himself denied. An anonymous phone-caller in Cyprus claimed his killing as the work of a supposedly anti-Syrian group that no one has ever heard of. Mr Hobeika, who led the Phalangist killers into Sabra and Chatila, changed sides from Israel to Syria during the civil war. But Lebanese police have now traced the car in which the bomb was placed to Jezzine, where Israel maintained an intelligence headquarters during the 19 years that the Christian town was under Israeli occupation.

The car's original owner has told the police that he sold his Mercedes 280 to two unidentified men without registering the transaction; the two buyers, he said, appeared to come from a neighbouring village. Adnan Addoum, the Lebanese Prosecutor General, says he is prepared to open a criminal investigation into Mr Ghanem's death if his widow agrees.

In which case we might find out if two men took the secrets of the Sabra and Chatila massacre to their graves.

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