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The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Souad Srour al-Mere'eh says she has come to Belgium looking for justice"
 real 56k

Dov Weissglas, Ariel Sharon's Lawyer for Kahan Comis
responds to the BBC's Panaroma programme
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Geoffrey Nice, International War Crimes Lawyer
"Belgian court will not have the power to bring Sharon to task, at this juncture"
 real 56k

Monday, 18 June, 2001, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Sharon may face massacre charge
A survivor of the Sabra massacre holds up a helmet of a militia member she says was involved in the killings
Hundreds of unarmed civilians died in the massacre
A survivor of a 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians is trying to open a war crimes case against the man she holds responsible - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr Sharon was Israeli defence minister when a Lebanese Christian militia allied to Israel killed hundreds of civilians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps.

An Israeli investigation in 1983, the Kahan Commission, found Mr Sharon indirectly responsible for the deaths, and public pressure forced him to resign.

Survivors Souad Srour Mere'eh with a picture of siblings killed the massacre
Mere'eh is acting on behalf of 28 survivors
But survivor Souad Srour al-Mere'eh, then 14, is not satisfied, and wants Mr Sharon tried for war crimes.

"I hope Sharon is tried and hanged for what he did," said Ms Mere'eh, who was raped and shot in the massacre.

Belgian justice

She is pressing her case in Belgium, where local law allows courts to prosecute foreign officials for human rights violations.

Two Rwandan nuns were convicted of complicity in genocide last week in the first successful prosecution under the 1993 Belgian law.

Atrocities in the refugee camps were perpetrated by members of the [militias] and ... absolutely no direct responsibility devolves upon Israel or upon those who acted in its behalf

Official Israeli finding
Mr Sharon's lawyer says that because the prime minister had no knowledge of what would happen when Israeli troops allowed the militia into the camps, he cannot be held responsible.

The Kahan Commission found that "atrocities in the refugee camps were perpetrated by members of the [militias] and ... absolutely no direct responsibility devolves upon Israel or upon those who acted in its behalf".

But Mr Sharon is criticised for having "disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed" by the militias against the Palestinian civilians.

And Ms Mere'eh, who has brought her case on behalf of 28 plaintiffs, says Israeli troops surrounded the camp and turned back Palestinians who tried to flee.

War crimes prosecutor

A former prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia told the BBC that he regretted the fact that nobody had ever faced prosecution in relation to the massacre.

Judge Richard Goldstone said there was a clear obligation on political and military leaders to take reasonable steps to protect civilians when they made their orders.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on a visit to a West Bank settlement on Sunday
Mr Sharon resigned over the incident
Speaking to the BBC investigative programme Panorama, he said that in a situation where civilians' lives were clearly at risk, the person giving orders was, in his book, even more responsible that the ones carrying them out.

The programme, which includes harrowing interviews with survivors of the massacre, Ms Mere'eh among them, has been widely criticised in Israel.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry called the the programme "an attempt to tarnish Israel and its leader" while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres promised to use "every means available to a democratic regime, via the media... to underline the injustice in it".

A Belgian examining magistrate is expected to decide this week whether Mr Sharon has a case to answer.

Ms Mere'eh's complaint is the second filed against Mr Sharon in Belgium in connection with the massacres.

A similar one was presented earlier this month. A magistrate is still considering that complaint.

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See also:

18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israelis outraged by BBC documentary
13 Jun 01 | Middle East
Kofi Annan pushes for Mid-East peace
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
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