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Begin Says He Regards Himself, As the Premier, As Fully Responsible for Beirut Massacre

Premier Menachem Begin said today he regarded himself, as Prime Minister, as fully responsible for any negligence or wrongdoing that might have happened in connection with the Beirut massacre.

Addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Begin said he accepted this responsibility even though he had actually learned of the massacre only after it was over — on Saturday afternoon, September 18. (Begin first heard of the massacre in a BBC world service broadcast.)

He said that this very fact — the lateness of his knowledge — might well be one that the inquiry commission would want to examine. He firmly denied that he or Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had sought to duck an inquiry. The massacre of the Palestinians at two refugee camps in west Beirut reportedly began the night of Thursday, September 16.

Earlier in the day Begin sent a special emissary to Supreme Court President Yitzhak Kahan with a formal letter informing him of the Cabinet’s decision yesterday to set up a judicial inquiry commission to examine “all the facts and factors connected to the atrocity perpetrated by a unit of the Lebanese forces against the civilian population in the Sobra and Shatila camps.”

It is Kahan, under the 1968 “Commissions of Inquiry Law,” who must now appoint the three members of the commission. (The number–three or five–is determined by the government, along with the terms of reference cited above.) The chairman must be a Supreme Court Justice or a retired Supreme Court Justice.

The expectation in Jerusalem is that Kahan will take the chairmanship on himself. He is likely to announce the commission’s composition within a day or two. But the scope of the commission’s investigation remained unclear today and Labor Alignment leaders continued to demand the resignation of Begin and Sharon.

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