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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 11:50 GMT
Profile: Elie Hobeika
Elie Hobeika
Elie Hobeika: "I'm not a monster"
Elie Hobeika, a former Lebanese minister and leader of a pro-Israeli militia, will be remembered mainly for his alleged role in a 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut.

Mr Hobeika, 45, was the intelligence chief of the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces militia - blamed for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.


I'm not a war criminal. I don't regard myself as a war criminal... I am not afraid of international justice

Elie Hobeika
The camps were attacked by Christian militiamen after the assassination of their leader - a close friend of Mr Hobeika, President-elect Bashir Gemayel.

Mr Hobeika, however, said he had "irrefutable proof" of his innocence in the killings.

But he was also quoted as saying about Sabra and Shatila: "I was carrying out orders."

He said last year that he was willing to testify in legal proceedings in Belgium, where Palestinian survivors of the massacres are trying to secure an indictment for crimes against humanity against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was defence minister during the Lebanon invasion.

'Hobeika sensed danger'

A Belgian senator was quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying that Mr Hobeika had told him earlier this week that he had "revelations" to disclose about the massacres and felt "threatened".

According to the senator, Josy Dubie, who asked him why he did not reveal all the facts he knew immediately, Mr Hobeika said: "I am saving them for the trial."

File picture of Sabra refugee camp at the time of the massacre
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were butchered in Sabra and Shatila
In a BBC documentary broadcast last year which investigated Mr Sharon's involvement, an Israeli officer reported overhearing Mr Hobeika being asked by a soldier what he should do with 50 women and children he was holding in the camps.

According to the Israeli soldier, Mr Hobeika replied: "That's the last time you're going to ask me a question like that. You know exactly what to do".

The soldier said Mr Hobeika's militiamen then burst into raucous laughter.

Accusations and denials

Mr Hobeika declined to be interviewed for the Panorama documentary, but agreed to meet a BBC correspondent.

"I'm not a war criminal," Mr Hobeika told him. I don't regard myself as a war criminal...I am not afraid of international justice."

After Lebanon's 15-year civil war ended in 1990, Mr Hobeika became a government minister, responsible for resettling one million displaced people.

"War has its rules and so does peacetime," Mr Hobeika was quoted as commenting at the time.

"The war's over and now I concentrate my efforts on helping the Lebanese overcome the effects the war had on them."

He was also quoted as saying: "I'm not a monster."

From Israel to Syria

Like many other Maronite Christians, Mr Hobeika was initially allied with Israel against what they saw as the threat of Syrian domination.

But only five years after Israel trained him and other officers of the Lebanese Forces militia to fight Palestinians, leftists and Muslims, Mr Hobeika cemented a new and more lasting alliance - with the Syrians.

He remained close to Syria, the most influential power in Lebanon, until his death.

Amnesty

Some of the accusations against Mr Hobeika were covered by a 1991 amnesty for crimes committed during the civil war passed by the Lebanese parliament.

Mr Hobeika - once seen as a possible presidential contender - lost his seat in parliament in 2000 - although he was elected in 1992 and 1996.

Mr Hobeika's killing rekindled memories of the thousands of bombings and assassinations that characterised Lebanon's civil war.

The country's rival militias wiped out their political enemies in gangland-style killings that claimed the lives of two presidents and a prime minister.

The blast that killed Mr Hobeika was the first major car bombing in Beirut since 1994.

One of Mr Hobeika's former bodyguards has alleged that Mr Hobeika himself ordered assassinations in the 1980s.

See also:

24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Former Lebanese minister killed
29 Aug 00 | Middle East
Opposition victory in Lebanon election
10 Jun 01 | Panorama
The Accused 17 June 2001
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