Sabra, west Beirut — More than 60 bodies were easily detectable in the first 100 yards of the Sabra refugee camp. This reporter counted them early Saturday morning.
It was impossible to tell how many people had been slaughtered in the whole of the sprawling camp, but each passageway and many homes with the doors kicked open revealed horrific scenes.
There were children shot at close range, their mothers nearby. There were bodies piled high in groups of 10 to 15.
Down one narrow ally were two heaps of mens' bodies slumped by the walls. Their identity cards, showing the victims to be both Lebanese and Palestinian, sprinkled the ground. They looked as if they had been put against the wall and fired on at close range.
A Lebanese Army soldier sitting at a post overlooking the Sabra camp said the killing began Thursday night. He said Israelis, who stood guard next to him on the hilltop, peered into the shanty town and fired flares.
Then the militias of the right-wing Christian Phalangists and Lebanese Army renegade Maj. Saad Haddad moved in, he said.
The Israelis continued pumping flares into the sky and the killing began, he said. He refused to give his name for fear of reprisals.
He and his handful of men did nothing. ''We had no orders and you see the Israelis have too many tanks for us to fight,'' he said, gesturing toward the Israeli armor nearby.
''The people came back here because they thought it was safe here,'' he said. ''They knew us and they thought it was safe.''
PLO leaders in Damascus said the people had been told to go to the camps because the Americans had guaranteed their safety in the camps, but not elsewhere. The Lebanese soldier said the killing ended Saturday at dawn.
A few women wandering around Sabra Saturday said the killers there had been Major Haddad's men. PLO sources in Damascus said they had eyewitness accounts saying most of those who invaded spoke Hebrew.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat blamed the US.
''This is American genocide, not mine,'' he said. ''I trusted them [the Americans]. They gave to me written assurances to protect Beirut, to protect the refugee camps, the women and the children. . . . Shameful,'' he said.
''Now there is no more credibility for the Americans, for the superpower. . . not even for the President [Ronald Reagan] who gave me these guarantees.''
''It is a challenge against the conscience of every person in the world,'' he said.