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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 17:35 GMT
Hobeika: Grief and hopes for justice
Sabra and Shatila residents read papers
Life is going on as normal in Sabra and Shatila
The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut reports on the mood in Lebanon the day of the funeral of the assassinated former warlord Elie Hobeika, who is implicated in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Thousands of people turned up on Saturday for the funeral of Mr Hobeika, a former Christian warlord who was killed two days ago in a car bomb along with his three bodyguards.

The funeral of Mr Hobeika, a controversial man with shifting loyalties and many enemies, did not draw crowds of influential Lebanese politicians.


If he is guilty, God will judge him, if he was innocent, God will avenge him

Sabra and Shatila massacre survivor Zahra Hussein Nahr
But Syria's President Bashar al-Assad was represented by Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon, an indication of the close ties between Hobeika and his Syrian friends to whom he allied himself in 1985, turning his back on Israel.

Syria has been the main power broker in Lebanon since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

The mourners formed a mixed crowd, spilling out of the church in Hazmiyeh, a suburb of the predominantly Christian east Beirut.

Tears

There were men in their mid-forties, rough looking with crosses on their chests, many of them crying, perhaps friends from the war days.

Others had a slicker look, dressed in suits, long coats, sunglasses, perhaps his partners in business, friends who shared his love for yachts and scuba diving.

Pictures of a smiling Mr Hobeika were plastered on cars and walls.

A banner hanging across the road read: "They feared your truth, so they killed you."

People from Mr Hobeika's entourage said they feared that Thursday's assassination was not an isolated incident.

Massacre survivor

In the camps of Sabra and Shatila, on the western side of the capital, life went on as normal.

Mourners carry Mr Hobeika's coffin
The crowd at the funeral was mixed
Zahra Hussein Nahr, one of the survivors of the massacre and a witness in the case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in Belgium, said that after what she had been through, she prayed for anyone who had died.

Mrs Nahr lost her husband and two of her sons in the massacre as well as 17 of her relatives.

"If he is guilty, God will judge him, if he was innocent, God will avenge him," she said speaking of Mr Hobeika.

She said she hoped the case against Mr Sharon would not face complications because of Mr Hobeika's death.

Determination

On Friday, Shibli Mallat, one of the lawyers of the Palestinian victims, said the case against Mr Sharon was still strong despite Mr Hobeika's assassination.

None of the three lawyers working on the case, Mr Mallat and his two Belgian colleagues, had met Mr Hobeika and their case did not rely on the evidence he claimed he had.

Car bomb aftermath
Mr Hobeika died in a car bomb attack
But the lawyers are convinced the assassination is linked to the case against Mr Sharon.

Sitting in his practice in Beirut, Mr Mallat showed some signs of nervousness as he pondered the unexpected violent development.

"The whole philosophy behind his case is a search of a non-violent route, where a judicial forum allows for a crime against humanity to be investigated and perpetrators to be brought to justice," he said.

"So we do hope that his act of violence will reinforce the determination of the court to allow the trial to go forward."

The Belgian court will rule on 6 March if the trial against Mr Sharon will go ahead.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Lebanese ex-militia leader buried
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Hobeika 'had massacre evidence'
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Lebanon's cocktail of hatreds
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Flashback: Sabra and Shatila massacres
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Profile: Elie Hobeika
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Warlord death 'link with Sharon case'
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Bomb kills Lebanese former warlord
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