JERUSALEM (Nov. 7)
Gen. Amos Yaron, commander of Israeli forces in Beirut during the refugee camps massacres, told the commission of inquiry today that Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan permitted the Phalangists to continue their operations in the camps a day after it was reported that civilians were being harmed and had congratulated them for doing “a good job.”
Yaron. a paratroop officer testified at an open session of the commission and then continued his testimony in closed session. Premier Menachem Begin is scheduled to testify before the panel tomorrow.
At the open session of the panel, Yaron said that “alarming reports began to come in” by Thursday night, September 16, that Christian Phalangists who entered the camps earlier in the day were going beyond their mission to round up suspected terrorists. The report of civilian casualties increased on September 17 whereupon Yaron telephoned his superior, Gen. Amin Drori, commander of the northern front. Yaron testified that on his recommendation, Drori ordered a halt to the Phalangists operation and summoned Eitan to Beirut.
SAYS EITAN CONGRATULATED PHALANGISTS
They accompanied Eitan to Phalangist headquarters where, according to Yaron, the Israeli Chief of Staff told the Phalangists that they had “done a good job” and said their operation could continue until Saturday morning.
Yaron was the first witness to appear before the commission accompanied by two lawyers whom he described as his “advisors.” He said that he learned on September 16, that the Phalangists would be allowed to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in west Beirut and that his orders, from the northern command, were to “coordinate” their entry. Yaron said that on the basis of his orders he treated the Phalangists as “a foreign force” with which the Israeli forces should “coordinate operationally.”
Yaron explained that the purpose of the coordination was to make sure that the Phalangists did not enter areas under control of the Israeli Defense Force and that they did not shoot at each other. He said that during the “coordination session with the Phalangists he warned them specifically not to hurt civilians because he knew “their patterns of behavior” which were different from those of the IDF.
“In the back of my mind I remembered that it was just after the murder of Bashir,” Yaron told the commission. He was referring to the assassination of Lebanon’s President-elect, Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Christian Phalangists, on Tuesday, September 14.
“As long as the operation took place in cooperation with us, I told them, they should be warned no to hurt the civilian population and those who gave themselves up,” Yaron said.
He said that at the first stage, it was agreed that the Phalangists should enter only the southern part of the Shatila camp. In addition to warning them against mistreating civilians, Yaron said he took other precautionary measures to make sure the Phalangists did not deviate from their mission which was to seek out suspected terrorists hiding in the camps.
He said he posted observers at points overlooking the camps and made sure that the IDF listened in on Phalangist radio communications. By the night of September 16 he began receiving reports of civilian casualties and other indications that the operation was exceeding its limits. One such indication, he said, was a Phalangist radio order to its forces in the camps to “do what God has ordered us to do.”
SAYS HE HAD HIS ORDERS
Yaron testified that on the night of September 17 he was still receiving reports that refugees were fleeing the camps because murders had been committed. But he told the officers who brought him the reports that he had his orders that the Phalangists should remain in the camps until Saturday morning, September 18.
Asked when he understood for the first time that “something serious” had happened in the camps, Yaron replied “not until Monday (October 20). I did not follow the TV and radio reports. The first indication of the scope of the case I received only Friday morning and Saturday night — but from journalists.”