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Peres: Israel Guilty of ‘mistake’ but Not ‘crime’ in Beirut Massacre

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Describing the recent massacre of hundred of Palestinian civilians as a “terrible mistake” on the part of the Israeli leadership for having allowed elements of the Christian Phalangist forces into the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps, opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres today maintained that a distinction must be made between a “mistake and a crime.”

In an interview from Jerusalem on the WNBC-TV “News Forum” program, the NBC network affiliate here, Peres said he was not accusing anyone of malicious intent in the Beirut massacre. But he differentiated between the “purpose” of allowing the Phalangist forces to enter the camp in search of Palestinian terrorists and the resulting tragedy.

Asked by correspondent Gabe Pressman if Israel was guilty of “immorality” in the massacre, Peres declared: “I would never imagine in my darkest dreams that there would be a single Israeli that would ever give his hand to a massacre of innocent people. I don’t buy it.”

While he said he supported the initial objectives of Israel in the Lebanon action, which began June 6 and was designed to create a buffer zone of 40 kilometers north of the Israeli border to prevent terrorist shelling of northern Israeli settlements, Peres termed as foolish the decision by the government of Premier Menachem Begin to go to Beirut and finally enter the capital.

Peres said the Israeli army should be used only for defensive purposes and not as a police force, particularly in a city like Beirut in which, he claimed, the Israeli military failed to understand the “passions and nature” of the Lebanese situation.

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