- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

BEIRUT A former Lebanese warlord held responsible for the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees was killed yesterday along with three bodyguards in a car-bomb attack that recalled the dark days of Lebanon's long sectarian war.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the assassination of Elie Hobeika, saying it was in protest of Syria's meddling in Lebanese affairs. Mr. Hobeika was an ally of Syria, which maintains troops in Lebanon and holds great sway over its politics.

Mr. Hobeika, 45, led the hard-line Lebanese Forces militia, which tore through the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut in September 1982, slaughtering hundreds of men, women and children.

The militia was allied with Israel, and an Israeli commission of inquiry found Defense Minister Ariel Sharon now Israel's prime minister indirectly responsible for the killings. He was forced to resign in 1983.

The blast yesterday morning was caused by 22 pounds of TNT planted inside a car parked next to Mr. Hobeika's sport utility vehicle. It was set off by remote control just as Mr. Hobeika and his guards got inside, investigator Jean Fahd said.

Authorities said the explosion ignited four scuba diver's tanks in Mr. Hobeika's vehicle, increasing the destruction. Mr. Hobeika was a diver. The blast also wounded six persons, Chief Military Magistrate Nasri Lahoud said.

The group Lebanese for a Free and Independent Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack in a fax to a Western news agency's office in Cyprus.

Mr. Hobeika made many enemies in Lebanon and elsewhere because of his alliance with Syria, among them rival Lebanese Forces faction leader Samir Geagea.

Many in Lebanon were quick to blame the assassination on Israel, long accused of undermining stability in the neighboring country.

Mr. Sharon said Israel had nothing to do with the assassination, telling reporters: "I am simply saying, from our point of view, we have no link to this subject at all, and this is not worthy of a comment."

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, in a statement, claimed Mr. Hobeika was killed to keep from testifying against Mr. Sharon, who is being sued in a Belgian court by a group of Palestinians who survived the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

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