Israeli general can face war crimes charges

A Belgian court ruled on Tuesday that a legal case brought against Israeli General Amos Yaron over the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon can go to trial.

As many as 2,000 people were
killed in the massacres

A Brussels court ruled that an appeal by a group of Palestinian survivors of the massacre was admissible.

Yaron faces a case filed in June 2001 under Belgium’s universal competence law over the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut that left at least 1,000 civilians dead.

Under the Belgian law, courts in Brussels can rule on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, wherever the alleged crimes took place and irrespective of the nationality of the alleged perpetrator. 

War crimes trials would then be allowed to proceed in Belgium if they related to countries that had a poor record on human rights and fair trials.

Other charges would be sent on to the countries themselves, or to the new International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Israeli justice ministry has already said it would boycott the suit against Yaron.

“We have announced in a letter that enough was enough, that the game was over and that Israel will no longer take part in this lawsuit, which is becoming a political issue,” Irit Kahn, in charge of international affairs at the chief prosecutor’s office, told AFP last month.

Kahn said Belgium was discriminating against Israel in allowing US courts to hear lawsuits filed in Belgium against ex-US President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for crimes committed in the 1991 Gulf War.

“Belgian justice has accepted to transfer these cases to the United States but are continuing their lawsuit against Amos Yaron”, she said.

Under the recent amendment Brussels also passed a case against Commander of US-led forces against Iraq, General Tommy Franks, to courts in the United States.

Yaron and Sharon

Yaron, who is now the Director General at Israel’s Defence Ministry, was responsible for the city of Beirut during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was defence minister at the time. An Israeli commission later found Sharon to be indirectly responsible for the massacres, carried out by Lebanese Israeli-allied fighters.

Earlier this year the Belgian Supreme Court threw out a similar appeal to try Sharon. But it left the door open for a new investigation to be opened once Sharon leaves office and loses diplomatic immunity.

The appeal has cooled relations between Israel and Belgium. Israel briefly recalled its ambassador from Brussels for consultations in February.

Under the universal competence law, complaints have also been filed against US President George W Bush, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

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