JERUSALEM (Oct. 31)
The general in command of Israeli forces during the massacre of Palestinians in west Beirut last month told the commission of inquiry today that an “uneasy feeling” had prompted him to order Christian Phalangist units out of the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps on Friday morning, September 17, a day after the killings began.
Gen. Amin Drori, commander of the northern region, testified at an open session, however that he had no concrete information at the time of “irregularities” committed by the Phalangists who had entered the camps the day before with the permission of the Israeli army.
He said he heard “definite” reports of the irregularities only later that Friday afternoon. He could not expand on the “uneasy feeling” which, he said, was shared by other IDF officers at the Beirut command post, which led him to call a halt to the Phalangist operations.
Drori said the only indication that something was wrong come from civilians fleeing the camps who told Israeli soldiers they had been physically abused by Phalangist troops. He said these complaints were made by several people who said the Phalangists broke into Palestinian houses with their guns firing and without prior warning.
SAYS PHALANGISTS ‘HAD GONE TOO FAR’
Drori said he telephoned Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan to inform him that he had halted the operation in the camps because “the Phalangists had gone too far.” He said Eitan made no reply.
According to Drori, he did not trust the Phalangists to carry out the operation in the camps. But, he stressed, Israeli troops were under explicit orders from the General Staff not to enter the camps. He said every precaution was taken to prevent direct participation by Israeli soldiers or any army personnel with either the Phalangists or any other forces in combined operations in Beirut or any theater of the war in Lebanon.
Drori said that after the assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon, he would have preferred that the Lebanese army deal with the reported presence of armed Palestinians in the refugee camps. But the Lebanese field commanders and other high ranking officers refused to move without a green light from Premier Shafia Al-Wazzan and that was not immediately forthcoming.
Drori said that when the Lebanese army demurred, his personal preference was to have the Israeli army do the job. But since that was not possible, the only alternative was to send in the Phalangists. Drori said he had many reservations about their ability to accomplish the mission and thought that if there was heavy fighting in the camps, the Phalangists could not cope with it.
According to reports from Beirut, meanwhile Lebanon’s official investigation into the massacre has made little headway and has generated minimal public interest. The inquity has been conducted in secret for the past two weeks. Few witnesses have been called and the military prosecutor, Assad Germanos, has refused to give any information to the media.
The Lebanese are said to regard the episode as just one more incident of bloodletting between Moslems and Christians which has been going on for years and are anxious to relegate it to the past. The Palestinians prefer to blame the Israelis, the reports said, and the rightwing “Lebanese Forces” militia, dominated by President Amin Gemayel’s Phalangist party, the strongest private army in Lebanon, denies any involvement in the massacre.