- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

From combined dispatches
BRUSSELS A Belgian legal panel yesterday put off hearings on arguments in a case charging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with genocide.
The closed-door hearing by the trial committal chamber of the Brussels Court of Appeals was to have determined if Belgian courts had jurisdiction in the case brought by a group of Palestinians.
The plaintiffs, 23 survivors or families of victims of the estimated 800 to 1,500 Palestinians massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, accuse Mr. Sharon of responsibility for the massacres.
The court postponed hearings until December 26 and January 23, although officials did not elaborate.
Belgian law allows the prosecution of foreigners, including heads of state, for suspected rights abuses and war crimes committed abroad. The case has led to tension between Israel and Belgium.
Mr. Sharon faces lawsuits filed by Palestinians in Brussels about his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps near Israeli-occupied Beirut. An Israeli inquiry in 1983 found Mr. Sharon, then defense minister, indirectly responsible, and he resigned from his post.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs presented to the Brussels appeals court their arguments about whether an examining magistrate should proceed with the investigation.
Mr. Sharon's lawyers were expected to have their turn in late January, and the court's decision would follow weeks later, an Israeli observer said outside the courtroom.
They are to contest the lifting of diplomatic immunity, which the law allows, and argue that accused parties should only be prosecuted if found on Belgian soil.
On Tuesday, Israelis filed a complaint against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under the same Belgian law, accusing him and his lieutenants of acts of violence dating back to 1974.
Mr. Sharon dealt Belgium, heading an EU mission as holder of the rolling EU presidency, a stinging rebuff by urging the European Union to stop funding the Palestinian Authority.
"It would be hypocrisy to pretend that this affair has not been a cloud on our relations," said Israeli foreign ministry official Danny Shek yesterday.


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