A nine-month Lebanese inquiry into the massacres of Palestinian and other civilians in the Sabra and Shatila camps here holds Israel "responsible legally" for the killings, according to accounts made available today.
An Israeli inquiry commission had blamed right-wing Phalangist forces for the killings but found in a report released last February that several Israeli officials, including former defense minister Ariel Sharon, bore indirect responsibility.
The massacre investigation by Lebanon's military prosecutor Assad Germanos absolved the dominant Christian party, the Phalangists, of any guilt. Although it said without detailed elaboration that "armed elements not from the Israeli camp participated in the massacre."
"Perhaps they are from the border element"--an apparent reference to units of cashiered Lebanese Army Maj. Saad Haddad's Israeli-backed militia--"or from among those who suffered from Palestinian excesses in previous years."
The role of the Phalangists in the Sept. 16 and 17 massacre is a sensitive question in the context of Lebanese politics. The Phalangist-dominated Lebanese Forces milita was established by president-elect Bashir Gemayel, who had been assassinated two days before the massacre began. Gemayel's brother Amin subsequently was elected president, and his father Pierre is still leader of the Phalangist Party. Investigations by journalists after the massacre and the Israeli commission established that they were carried out by units of the Lebanese Forces.
Sources here said tonight that the Lebanese report "holds Israel responsible legally for what happened in Sabra and Shatila camps and the resulting victims because their forces were in full control of the two camps, their entrances and the surrounding area."
Germanos recommended that judicial prosecutions in connection with the massacres be delayed "pending the definition of the competent judicial authorities." The reason he cited for the postponement of unspecified duration, according to accounts of the report, is that "no line could be drawn between military operations and individual acts."
The inquiry reportedly determined that there had been 460 victims of the 48-hour massacre and lists the names of 269 Palestinians, 119 Lebanese, 11 Syrians, 32 Pakistanis or Iranians, two Egyptians, two Algerians and 25 unidentified persons. The list was compiled from information reportedly given by medical teams, Red Cross organizations and the Lebanese civil defense.
The massacres last September provoked strong outrage in the western world and in Israel, where it led to the appointment of the Kahan commission. There has never been any similar response here.
Lebanese officials tend to explain the comparatively mute response here by describing the rampage of killings at the two Palestinian camps as another slaughter in eight years of war that have numbed a weary populace.
Although those killed at Sabra and Shatila included the elderly, women and children, another reason appears to be a widespread hostility here toward Palestinians because of bitter memories of the years in which the Palestine Liberation Organization and its leftist allies ruled West Beirut and southern Lebanon.
Lebanese officials appeared stunned and hurt last winter when they were criticized widely because of the implication of the Christian militia and Lebanon's own failure to undertake the searching inquiry into the massacres Israel had conducted.
Sharon was removed from his post as defense minister but allowed to remain in the Israeli Cabinet without portfolio, and several top-ranking Israeli Army officers were reassigned on the recommendation of the commission, which found that they had acted in a negligent manner.
Israeli troops surrounded the camps at the time of the massacres and kept people away during the two days of the killings. But there was no evidence that Israelis were physically in the camps, although Israeli military posts overlooked them.
Although it has been alleged that the Israelis were close enough to hear the gunshots and the victims' screams, evidence to support this has been inconclusive. Nevertheless, Israeli officers testified before the Kahan board of inquiry that unconfirmed reports of civilian deaths were transmitted to the Defense Ministry.