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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 14:01 GMT
Lebanon hears case against Sharon
Bodies lie in the rubble at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp on 19 December 1982
At least 800 civilians were killed at Sabra and Shatila
A Lebanese court has been hearing evidence presented by 21 Palestinian survivors of a 1982 massacre in Beirut, in a case brought against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Two witnesses gave evidence during the first session at Beirut's Justice Palace on Wednesday.

May Khansa
Mrs Khansa has drawn up 73 charges against Israel
The lawsuit has been filed by their Lebanese lawyer, May Khansa, who blames Mr Sharon for the massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

She is also suing the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over the abduction and assassination of leaders of the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and a massacre of civilians in Lebanon when he was prime minister in 1996.

Mr Sharon's lawyers argue that he is immune from prosecution because he is a sitting head of government.

In 1982, Mr Sharon was minister of defence and the engineer of the invasion of Lebanon.

His troops were in control of west Beirut when right-wing Christian militias entered the camps of Sabra and Shatila and slaughtered between 800 and 2,000 unarmed civilians.

Long charge-sheet

One of the witnesses, Amouna Madi Younes, told AP what she saw prior to the the massacre in which her daughter died:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon's troops failed to prevent the massacre
"We went to the roof and we began to watch (Ariel Sharon) while he was observing the camp with his field glasses. We did not understand anything. During the night they attacked the camp and slaughtered people."

The Lebanese lawyer, who is close to the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, believes that the trial will have a positive influence on another case brought against Mr Sharon, this time in Belgium, by a different group of 23 survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

She says the Lebanon trial will help prove the extent of the war crimes committed by Mr Sharon.

Belgian case

A Belgian law adopted in 1993 makes it possible to try anyone, including heads of state, for crimes against humanity, regardless of where they occurred.

The Belgian court will rule on 6 March whether Mr Sharon can be tried in Belgium.

But several lawyers here have dismissed the trial in Lebanon against Mr Sharon as a sham, and have put in doubt the competence of Lebanese courts to rule in such a lawsuit.

They also fear that Mr Sharon's lawyers in Belgium will argue that if their client is being tried in a Lebanese court for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, there is no need for another trial in Belgium.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Hobeika: Grief and hopes for justice
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israelis outraged by BBC documentary
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Flashback: Sabra and Shatila massacres
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
Court postpones Sharon ruling
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