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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Refugees fear return of Sharon
shatila
Ariel Sharon is a figure of fear for massacre survivors
By Jim Muir in Beirut

The Israeli election has been watched closely throughout the Arab world, but nowhere will Ariel Sharon's victory be felt more keenly than in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

sharon
Ariel Sharon resigned over the massacre
Ariel Sharon was Israeli defence minister when at least 800 civilians - perhaps as many as 2,000 - were butchered in the camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The camps were undefended against Israel's Christian militia allies; Palestinian fighters had been evacuated as part of an agreement.

In Israel, the Kahan Commission report held Mr Sharon responsible and he was obliged to resign.

So not surprisingly, the fact that he has re-emerged as prime minister has evoked strong feelings among Palestinians who survived the massacre.

Still afraid

One man, who was five at the time and who lost his father and many other relatives, described Mr Sharon as a "monster".

He believed his election would be a clear sign that the Israelis did not want peace.

shatila
Residents of Shatila too young to remember the horrors of 1982
A woman who was badly wounded and who lost her father, three brothers and two sisters in the massacre, said she was still afraid of Ariel Sharon. She believed that even worse things would now happen.

But other Palestinians in the camps said that the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak himself presided over further killings of Palestinians.

"They're all the same," was one common comment.

And if the Arab world does indeed come to terms with Ariel Sharon, it won't be the first time such a thing has happened.

Menachem Begin was feared and hated among the Arabs for his role in a massacre at the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

There was consternation when he emerged as prime minister in 1977, yet he won the Nobel Peace Prize for making the Camp David peace with Egypt.

The fact is that it is easier for hard-liners to deliver peace - if they want to. But it would be hard indeed to find anybody in Sabra and Shatila who believes that Ariel Sharon is destined for that role.

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See also:

04 Feb 01 | Middle East
Barak battles for Arab vote
04 Feb 01 | Media reports
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01 Feb 01 | Middle East
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26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Arab fears over Sharon-Barak battle
01 Feb 01 | Media reports
Palestinians expect Sharon 'disaster'
26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's leadership battle
02 Jan 01 | Middle East
Barak's election gamble
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