Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians mourn Beirut refugee massacre in 1982

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Hamad Shamus remembers the morning in September 1982 when the right-wing Lebanese forces and their Israeli advisers sealed the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut and began to massacre the Palestinians inside.

His home was nearest to the camp entrance and he was one of the first to hear shots as the Phalangist militia, in uniforms adorned with the Cedar Tree insignia, arrived. The Phalange had been fighting the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its Lebanese allies since 1975 and were seeking revenge for the killing of their leader, Bashir Gemayel, in a car bombing.

"They put all of us against the wall by our home and shot us," said Shamus, who was 20 at the time. "Me, my father, my brother and a family from next door. I was shot three times. One man lived for an hour before he gave up and died. I lay there for three days listening to them kill the others. I prayed to God for myself and for my family. I don't know how I lived."

He rises and limps to a wall of pictures showing piles of dead. He points to a body.

"That is my father," he points again, "and that leg is my brother."

As Israel's top military official in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and backer of the Phalangists, Ariel Sharon is here thought of as a butcher of innocents.

"He is the King Kong of massacres," said Abu Khalil, 46, another survivor.

The Israeli Kahan Commission found Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre -- he was dismissed as Israel's defense minister.

"I want to see him recover so that we can charge him with crimes," Hamad said. "But it seems maybe God has decided to charge him instead."

Abu Mohammed, 55, looks down the street he helped defend. He had sensed something bad was coming and hid his family. He then returned to his home as the Phalangists and Israelis arrived. He ran to the nearby football stadium, used as a weapons depot before the PLO withdrawal, and found rifles and grenades.

"It was our right to resist, we are not terrorists. It was easier to kill the unarmed, so they left us alone. My neighbor was worried the Israelis would send jets to bomb us, so he walked out of the camp with a white flag to tell them we were just civilians defending our homes. They shot him in the street," he said.

Of Sharon, he says: "Like all Palestinians, we pray he does not die [as he would] not suffer like he caused the Palestinian people to suffer at his hand."

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