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Belgian Court Won't Try Sharon

February 13, 2003|From Times Wire Services

BRUSSELS — Belgium's supreme court threw out an attempt by a group of Palestinians to bring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to trial for war crimes, but left the door open for the plaintiffs to try again after he leaves office.

The Palestinians, who sought to have Sharon prosecuted for a 1982 massacre at refugee camps in Lebanon, were using a Belgian law that allows the country's courts to hear cases of war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

A lower court dismissed the case in June, saying Sharon could not be tried for war crimes because he does not live in Belgium. It also said he enjoyed diplomatic immunity as the head of the Israeli government.

The supreme court upheld Sharon's immunity but said charges could be brought against nonresidents under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" law. That left open the possibility of a future investigation once he leaves office.

The court said investigations could proceed against former Israeli army Cmdr. Amos Yaron, who was also named in the original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision a "scandal" that "legitimizes terror and does not help those who fight terrorism."

Sharon was Israel's defense minister when hundreds of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps south of Beirut were slaughtered by a Lebanese Christian militia allied with the Israelis.

An Israeli inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible and forced him to resign as defense minister in 1983.

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