TEL AVIV (Sep. 23)
Israeli papers continued their investigation today into the events at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in west Beirut, with a comparison of statements by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon — especially in his Knesset speech yesterday — and Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan, on the one hand, and on the spot interviews with Israeli officers and soldiers, Lebanese army officers and refugee camp residents, on the other hand.
The general feeling is that many questions arise from the statements of Sharon and Eitan, which contradict each other on many points. Thus, Sharon told the Knesset that Phalangist forces had entered the camps from the west and south, and nothing had been learned of what went on until Friday afternoon. But Eitan said the Phalangists entered from the east (where there were no Israeli forces) and the Israelis only learned what was happening on Saturday morning.
These contradictions may be the reason for opposition by both Sharon and Eitan to the establishment of an independent legal committee of investigation. Eitan is said to have threatened to resign if such a committee was appointed.
But the descriptions of both men appear to be at variance with information obtained by Israeli journalists in conversations with Israeli soldiers from units near the camps.
According to these conversations published in many papers, the Phalangists had entered the camps in full coordination with Israeli officers, who had, indeed, stressed that their mission was to seek out terrorists and not to harm civilians.
But news of the slaughter came back to Israeli soldiers early Friday morning. They in turn passed the information on to their superior officers. But somewhere in the higher echelons of authority the early reports were dismissed as “hysterical reactions.”
FOCUS ON AN EARLIER MASSACRE
Much of the discussion in the press today centered around Sharon’s charge in the Knesset yesterday that Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, when he was Defense Minister in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, knew of the Tel El-Za Atar refugee camp massacre in 1975, at which he hinted that Israeli officers were present.
At that time, Christian militia supported by Syrian troops surrounded the camp for months and ultimately slaughtered between 6,000 and 10,000 of its Palestinian residents.
Peres immediately denied the report in the Knesset after Sharon’s speech, terming it a libel and a lie. Labor Party Knesset member Chaim Herzog told members that, as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, it was he who had drawn attention to the massacre undertaken by the Syrian invaders of Lebanon. The camp was located in Beirut.
Rabin, himself, remained silent yesterday when Sharon levelled his charge. He said today that he had not spoken out because he wanted to refresh his memory from documents covering that period. Having done so, Rabin today described Sharon’s charge that Israel was implicated at the time as “completely untrue” and a “despicable libel.”
The afternoon newspaper Yediot Aharonot today quoted officers involved at that time in Israeli-Lebanese affairs as also denying the Sharon statement
They said that while Israeli political and other leaders had paid secret visits to Beirut, at the start of Israeli-Christian relations, and liaison officers from Israel were posted to Lebanese Christian units, no Israel officers were present at the camp in Beirut or aware of what was happening inside the surrounded camp area.
One officer was quoted as saying that if statements such as those made by Sharon had been made by an Israeli officer, civilian or journalist outside the Knesset, he would be liable for criminal proceedings as having given away state and army secrets, if true.