Belgian Court Dismisses Sharon War Crimes Suit

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Brussels court threw out a genocide suit against Ariel Sharon on Wednesday–ruling that his absence from Belgium meant the Israeli prime minister could not be probed over a 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees.

Survivors of the Beirut camp massacres had pursued Sharon–who was defence minister at the time Israel invaded Lebanon–under a 1999 law empowering Belgian courts to try crimes against humanity and genocide–no matter where they have been committed.

Israel–whose relations with Brussels were soured by the case filed a year ago–hailed a triumph for "law over politics" in a ruling some legal experts said left Belgium’s sweeping human rights law all but impotent if suspects live abroad.

Palestinians–hundreds of whose kin were killed by Israeli-backed Christian militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila camps–vowed to keep after Sharon. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said they would take the case to Belgium’s Supreme Court of Appeal.

"We will never give up our attempts and deman’s that Sharon must be prosecuted for his crimes," Palestinian cabinet minister Imad al-Falouji told Reuters in Gaza–where Palestinians are 21 months into a bloody uprising against Israeli occupation.

"Sharon is pursuing his war crimes in all Palestinian cities and refugee camps–backed by international silence. And now–encouraged by a court decision that lets him get away with his deeds–he is free of everything but the blood on his hands."

"It’s a lawsuit that started with more politics than law and it is lucky that the outcome is more law than politics," Daniel Shek–the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of European affairs–told reporters at the court when the 22-page ruling was finally handed out after a nail-biting two-hour delay.

"One nation cannot judge another nation," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem.

"A nation that doesn’t–fortunately–have to fight terror and war will hardly understand a nation that has to do it."

Sharon–74–made no immediate comment. In 1983–an Israeli commission found him indirectly responsible for the massacre.

Based on the same ruling the appeals court threw out a separate case against Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo–who was accused him of complicity in torture–rapes and killings by security forces in October 2000.

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