Palestinian officials on Monday said that it will continue to push for the rights of refugees in the peace talks with Israel, as Palestine marked the 31st anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
“On the 31st anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, we take this opportunity to remember the victims of that dreaded episode and recall the importance of working to end impunity for such crimes ," PLO Executive Committee Member, Dr. Saeb Erekat said in a press statement on Monday, the Palestinian News Network (PNN) reported.
The Sabra and Shatila massacre , which occurred between 16-18 September 1982, saw the slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites . Hundreds of members of the Phalange party - a Lebanese Christian militia - in collaboration with the Israeli army, slaughtered Palestinians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp located in Beirut.
The massacre was presented as retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, who was the leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. It was wrongly assumed that it had been Palestinian militants who had killed Gemayel – it was later revealed the assassination was carried out by Lebanese militants with ties to Syria.
With Palestinian fighters having withdrawn from Lebanon just a few weeks prior, and the Israeli army in effective control of the area around the camp, the residents were defenceless, PNN reported.
"31 years later, there is still no justice for the victims. In fact, those responsible, including then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, would go on to have very successful political careers, adding further insult to the injury," Erekat, who is also Palestine's chief negotiator in the peace talks, said.
"Unfortunately, this was not the first or the last massacre to take place in our history . It is our responsibility and our right to take all measures to protect our people, deter such crimes, and seek accountability for the perpetrators by relying on the system of international criminal justice. That is a primary duty of any government."
Erekat added: "While negotiations are ongoing , we want to assure our people, from Sabra and Shatila to Yarmouk, that a solution to the refugee issue in compliance with international law, including UN General Assembly Resolution 194, will be the cornerstone of any agreement. The rights of refugees have been denied for too long, and there can be no lasting and just peace so long as that continues to be the case."
Erekat's comments come one day after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the Syria chemical weapons plan and the peace talks .