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Israel Recalls Ambassador to Belgium - 2003-02-13


Israel is recalling its ambassador from Belgium in protest to a Brussels court ruling Wednesday that could result in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon facing war crimes charges, once he leaves office. Israeli Foreign Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, angrily denounced the decision of the Brussels Supreme Court late Wednesday.

Announcing the recall of Israel's ambassador in Brussels for consultations, Mr. Netanyahu accused Belgium of aiding those who wanted to harm the Jewish State and, in his words, "the entire free world".

In addition, he has also invited the Belgian ambassador to Israel for an urgent hearing Thursday. He was reacting to the ruling on an appeal to try Mr. Sharon for the 1982 massacres of Palestinians in refugee camps in Beirut by Lebanese Christian militia groups, allied to Israel. At the time, Mr. Sharon was Israel's Defense Minister.

An Israeli judicial inquiry in 1983 found Mr. Sharon indirectly responsible for the killings in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He was forced to resign from the government but never faced any charges.

The suit in Brussels was brought under Belgium's 1993 "universal jurisdiction" law which allows for the prosecution of alleged war crimes no matter where they took place. The Brussels Supreme Court Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling last year that Mr. Sharon could not be prosecuted, saying he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and did not live in Belgium. At the same time, the court left the door open for Mr. Sharon to stand trial once he leaves office and loses any diplomatic immunity.

The court also ruled that investigations could also proceed against former Israeli army commander, Amos Yaron, who was the only other person named in the complaint.