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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Sharon 'war crimes' hearing delayed
Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon resigned after the 1982 massacre
An appeals court hearing in Belgium on whether Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can be prosecuted for war crimes has been postponed until the end of next month.

Belgian lawyer Adrien Massert, who has been appointed to represent Mr Sharon, said the delay had been granted to allow him to build up his case.

A Palestinian woman holds a helmet at a memorial service
The killings still cause great anger
Mr Sharon, 73, has been under investigation since July by a Belgian examining magistrate for alleged crimes against humanity.

They relate to massacres in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon when Mr Sharon was Israeli Defence Minister.

Lebanese Christian militiamen went on a three-day killing spree after being allowed into the camps by Israeli soldiers.

Between 800 and 1,500 Palestinians died.

'Personally responsible'

Mr Sharon resigned as defence minister after an Israeli investigation in 1983 found him indirectly but "personally" responsible for the deaths. He stayed on in the government as a minister without portfolio.

He faces two lawsuits brought under a 1993 Belgian law, allowing Belgian courts to prosecute foreigners for human rights abuses committed abroad.

Palestinian banner with Sharon pictured as a donkey
Ariel Sharon is hated by many Palestinians
The first suit, charging him with responsibility for the deaths, was lodged by a group of Palestinian, Lebanese, Moroccan and Belgian nationals.

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

Referred on

Magistrate Patrick Collignon had referred the case to an appeal court to decide whether the matter fell within his jurisdiction.

Because of the case, Mr Sharon has been unable to visit the European Union headquarters in Belgium.

The hearing has been re-scheduled for 28 November.

Mr Massert said Mr Sharon rejected the legality of the case against him.

"He thinks the complaint is illegal and illegitimate," Massert told Reuters news agency.

He said Mr Sharon would be challenging Belgium's right to try a foreigner for alleged crimes committed abroad and arguing that, as a statesman, Mr Sharon has diplomatic immunity.

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Middle East
Sharon's strategy
08 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Sharon: A changed man?
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israelis outraged by BBC documentary
05 Feb 01 | Middle East
Refugees fear return of Sharon
23 Mar 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Europe and the Middle East
23 May 01 | Media reports
Sharon on Mitchell report: Excerpts
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