A subdued Ariel Sharon said today that he did not have "even the slightest idea" that Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen would massacre hundreds of Palestinians when they went into two Beirut refugee camps in September 1982.
In his second day under cross examination in the trial of his $50 million libel suit against Time Inc., the former Israeli general said he still sharply disagreed with Israel's Kahan Commission which investigated the killings.
The commission concluded that Sharon had "disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists," was guilty of "nonfulfillment of duty" and -- with other civilian and military officials -- bore "indirect responsibility" for the atrocities. Sharon was later ousted as defense minister on the recommendation of the commission although he was allowed to remain in the Cabinet and now is minister of industry and commerce.
In his court testimony today, Sharon said, "I think that the Kahan Commission made very good work when it came to the facts but I never agreed with the conclusions. I never accepted the conclusions."
"If I would have had even the slightest idea that this tragic event would have taken place, I would have never allowed the Phalangists to enter the camps."
But Time's lead attorney, Thomas D. Barr, flashing pages from the Kahan Commission report on a large screen in the courtroom, hammered away at Sharon's contention that there had not been ample warnings.
Sharon acknowledged the accuracy of the information but disputed the meaning of remarks that included:
* A funeral oration by Amin Gemayel, now president of Lebanon and also the brother of Phalangist militia leader and President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who had been assassinated in a bomb explosion two days before the militiamen went into the camps. Sharon acknowledged that he had heard a radio broadcast reporting that Amin Gemayel had said at the funeral, "Bashir, my brother, we will revenge you."
* Warnings to Sharon by Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan during a meeting eight hours before the Phalangists entered the camps. "They are seething with feelings of revenge and there might be rivers of blood there. We won't go into the refugee camps," Eitan said, according to the Kahan Commission.
* Concern expressed by Deputy Prime Minister David Levy in a Cabinet session in which Sharon, for the first time, informed fellow ministers that the militiamen would go into the camps and were, in fact, doing so as the Cabinet met. "I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter," the Kahan Commission quoted Levy as saying. "I think we are liable here to get into a situation in which we will be blamed, and our explanations will not stand up."
Sharon said several times that he felt vengeful acts were "part of the life among Arab populations." But the judge cut him off at Barr's request. In previous days, Sharon had been allowed to discourse at length on subjects including Arab architecture, sociology and geography.
"It's Mr. Barr's turn to be in control," Judge Abraham Sofaer told Sharon. At another point Sharon blurted out, "I came here to struggle for the truth against lies . . . . " He was abruptly cut off again.
Sofaer told jurors to keep evidence Barr presented from the commission report today in perspective and said he would instruct them later on how to weigh it.
"If you find that Time's statement was defamatory," the judge said, "Time will have to show something in addition to this evidence . . . something that indicates an action or discussion or some positive act or some kind of an equivalent to a discussion about revenge with the people who then went into the camps right after discussion -- either that kind of discussion or something equivalent."