Destruction at two refugee camps -- witnesses tell how it happened
Shatila, west Beirut — The first thing one notices is the laundry, hanging hopefully as if its owners will return to fold it.
But finally one can no longer avoid looking at the bodies. An old man is curled up over an unexploded hand grenade. Thirteen youths are crowded between two houses and shot in a heap.
The images of the Sabra and Shatila camps will no doubt remain the most vivid moments of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, underscoring the torturous political terrain in which Israel finds itself after the fall of Lebanon and now west Beirut. These images are already causing embarrassment to the Israeli government abroad and creating dissension at home. Israeli Prime Minister Begin has ordered an investigation into the massacres.
Thirty-six hours after the massacres, the number of bodies is still unclear. Some say 500 were killed, some say 1,000, some say more. This reporter counted 37 bodies while covering only a small portion of Shatila camp.
What is clear is that the victims were defenseless. Some were shot in the back, some sprayed with machine-gun fire. Others were shot with their arms tied behind their backs.
Several questions about the massacre remain unanswered.
Israeli officials say their troops, which had surrounded the camps, permitted Christian militiamen associated with the Phalangist Party, the group headed by recently murdered President-elect Bashir Gemayal, to enter the camps to drive out remaining Palestinian guerrillas. The Israelis say they intervened when they realized a massacre was going on. However, survivors say shooting continued for two hours, raising the question of why Israeli soldiers did not react more quickly. One Israeli soldier explained that the Israelis assumed the Phalangists would act responsibly.
Palestinians had often voiced fears that civilians would be attacked by Christian militiamen acting in the Lebanese tradition of revenge, once the Palestine Liberation Organization had departed from Beirut. Palestinian refugees in camps in south Lebanon told this reporter on several occasions that they believed only the Israeli Army could protect them from massacre by Christian militiamen.
US President Ronald Reagan noted that Israel had defended its invasion of west Beirut by saying that it would prevent just such destruction. Lebanese Army troops have now been put in charge of both Palestinian camps, and no Christian militiamen will be allowed near them.
Also unresolved is the issue of who committed the massacre. Israel had insisted it was the Phalangists, who have denied any role. Eyewitnesses report having seen Phalangists in the camp, but every refugee of a dozen interviewed by the Monitor insisted the massacre was carried out by the forces of Maj. Saad Haddad. Major Haddad, a former Lebanese Army officer, runs a special enclave along Israel's border with an army funded and trained by Israel. He is now being encouraged by Israel to expand his territory to include a 30-mile zone in south Lebanon, a prospect opposed by many Lebanese politicians, who view it as contrary to the goal of a strong centralized Lebanese government. Major Haddad was a bitter enemy of the PLO. Refugees say Major Haddad's troops arrived by truckloads at the camps. Haddad has denied any such role. Israeli officers say this could not have happened with out their knowledge.
If Major Haddad was indeed involved, this would be highly embarrassing to Israel, which is backing him strongly, especially in the wake of the murder of Mr. Gemayel.