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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 16:00 GMT
Arafat lawsuit filed in Belgian court
Protesters outside the court with pictures of relatives killed, they said, by Palestinians
Protesters at the court carried pictures of killed relatives
By Chris Morris in Brussels

A lawsuit has been filed against the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Brussels accusing him of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yasser Arafat
The Arafat case was prompted by an earlier suit against Ariel Sharon

A group of mainly Israeli families hold Mr Arafat and other leading Palestinians responsible for a series of bomb attacks and murders stretching back more than a quarter of a century.

The lawsuit takes advantage of a Belgian law which allows the country's court to prosecute foreigners for human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.

A representative of the group said they decided to act after they had seen how swiftly the Belgian courts began considering a lawsuit filed by Palestinians against the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon resigned after the 1982 massacre

That lawsuit holds Mr Sharon responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982, when Mr Sharon was Israel's minister of defence.

On Wednesday a Belgian court will meet to decide whether it can try Mr Sharon as a sitting prime minister.

It also has to decide whether he can be held liable for an incident that took place before 1993.

That was when Belgium adopted the law which allows courts to try cases of crimes against humanity regardless of where they were committed.

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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