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Court rules Sharon cannot be indicted for slaughter
27 June 2002
Lawyers for the 1982 Palestinian victims of the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp massacres in Lebanon will appeal against yesterday's Belgian court ruling that decided Ariel Sharon held "personally responsible" for the killings by Israel's own commission of inquiry cannot be indicted for the slaughter.
A Belgian court ruled that the case could not proceed because Israel's Prime Minister, who was the Defence Minister in 1982, is not in Belgium even though the 1993 Belgian law grants its courts "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes wherever they are committed.
Israel welcomed the decision. "A trial which began with more politics than law ends with more law than politics," Daniel Shek, a foreign affairs department official, remarked. "We, from the beginning, trusted the Belgian courts and I am happy we were not disappointed."
But the Israeli state, which took up Mr Sharon's case only hours before the Belgian lawyers' chief witness, Elie Hobeika, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut, may still have problems to come. Mr Hobeika, who led Israel's Phalangist militia into the camps, announced last January he would give evidence to the courts but was killed the next day. Israel denied all responsibility for his murder.
The three lawyers behind the appeal said yesterday: "Impunity continues notably for Mr Ariel Sharon who, as the person in command of the operation which was carried out 'under his supervision', was found 'personally responsible' for those massacres by an Israeli commission of inquiry."
Chibli Mallat, the Lebanese lawyer who has unearthed new evidence that Israeli troops gave massacre survivors to the camp murderers for execution after the initial slaughter, says there will be an appeal.
War crimes proceedings have been brought in Belgium against Yasser Arafat, President Saddam Hussein, President Fidel Castro, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran and President Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast. They will all, no doubt, be breathing a sigh of relief after this judgment.