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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
BBC defends Sharon documentary
Sabra massacre memorial service in Beirut, 1982
An Israeli inquiry said Mr Sharon was indirectly responsible
The BBC has rebuffed intense criticism from the Israeli Government over a documentary that asks whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could be charged with war crimes.

The programme, broadcast in Britain on Sunday, examined Israeli-allied militiamen's massacre in 1982 of hundreds of people in the Palestine refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.


The job of a reporter is to deal with the facts. And the facts of Sabra and Shatila are deeply shocking

Fergal Keane
The programme contained comments from international legal expert Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton University, suggesting that Mr Sharon could be indicted.

It also showed the prime minister's spokesman, Ranaan Gissen, rejecting the notion as an insult and an injustice.

Mr Sharon resigned from his post as defence minister after a 1983 Israeli inquiry concluded that he had failed to act to prevent the massacre.

'Anti-semitism'

The BBC programme, titled "The Accused", part of the investigative series Panorama, "looks at the question of ultimate legal responsibility for the massacres," the BBC said in a statement.

"The programme asks whether the evidence from that time would be sufficient to justify criminal charges."

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon was defence minister at the time
In its statement the BBC said it stood by the story, which it called "a legitimate analysis of a human rights issue."

Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Israel army radio that the BBC's reporting was sometimes slanted against Israel, and "sometimes there is a shade of anti-Semitism".

Responding to claims of pro-Palestinian bias, Fergal Keane, the BBC journalist who reported the piece, said: "I have nothing but contempt."

"At Panorama we are simply being true to a basic principle. It is a duty of journalists to question the actions and record of those who wield power," he said.

Claims rejected

"The job of a reporter is to deal with the facts. And the facts of Sabra and Shatila are deeply shocking."

He also repudiated claims by Mr Gissen, that the BBC had tricked him into giving an interview for the documentary.

"Contrary to inaccurate statements put out by some Israeli officials, Mr Gissen was fully aware of the subject when he gave the interview," he said.

"When the interview was over he left us on friendly terms. In fact some days later his officials provided us with a letter to help us transit easily through Ben Gurion airport with our tapes."

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See also:

17 Jun 01 | Middle East
UN chief upbeat over Mid-East peace
17 Jun 01 | Panorama
Ask Fergal Keane
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