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Monday, 19 November, 2001, 12:56 GMT
Sharon summoned by Belgian court
Sabra massacre memorial service in Beirut, 1982
Sharon was indirectly to blame, an Israeli inquiry found
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being summoned to a Belgian court to answer questions over his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, say Belgian media reports.

Two separate claims against Mr Sharon are being brought under a 1993 Belgian law, which allows war crimes and genocide to be tried in Belgium, even if the events took place elsewhere, and even if none of the victims was Belgian.

A hearing has been set for 28 November, and Mr Sharon is expected to be issued with summons documents by the Belgian ambassador to Israel, says Le Soir newspaper.

Belgian magistrate Patrick Collignon has been investigating the two cases, initially to determine whether he has jurisdiction in the case.

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon failed to prevent the attack, an Israeli inquiry found
The first case, charging Mr Sharon with responsibility for the deaths, was lodged by a group of Palestinians, Lebanese, Moroccans and Belgians.

The second suit, which alleges crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, was filed by 23 survivors of the massacres and five eyewitnesses.

The massacres took place in two refugee camps in Lebanon which were home to thousands of Palestinians.

Three months after after Israeli troops invaded Lebanon in 1982, the camps were stormed by Christian militiamen.

Sharon resigns

They shot and killed an estimated 800-1,500 of the refugees.

Mr Sharon was Israeli defence minister at the time. An Israeli investigation in 1983 found him indirectly but "personally" responsible for the deaths, and he was forced to resign.

Le Soir says the two separate summonses have been left with the Belgian ambassador, Wilfried Green, but are expected to be delivered shortly.

The case has left the Belgian administration walking on eggshells, the paper says.

Belgian diplomacy

At the same time as preparing to serve the summonses, Belgium - as European Union president - is spearheading a new diplomatic effort to restore the peace process.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is heading a senior EU delegation on a Middle East tour which has included top-level talks in Israel.

The delegation, which left Israel on Monday, has held separate talks with Mr Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At the court hearing on 28 November, a Belgian grand jury is scheduled to decide whether the court has jurisdiction in the case.

Mr Sharon's Belgian lawyer is challenging the court's right to be involved, and the Belgian investigation has been suspended in the meantime.

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, has angrily attacked the Belgian Government over the affair, accusing Mr Verhofstadt of heading a "government of bastards".

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Palestinians are looking for justice for all the victims of the 1982 massacre"
See also:

08 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Sharon: A changed man?
03 Oct 01 | Middle East
Sharon 'war crimes' hearing delayed
05 Feb 01 | Middle East
Refugees fear return of Sharon
19 Nov 01 | Middle East
Mid-East awaits key Powell speech
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israelis outraged by BBC documentary
23 Mar 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Europe and the Middle East
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