The self-rule Palestinian Authority demanded Saturday that those responsible for the massacre of Palestinians in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Shatila 18 years ago be tried for war crimes.
"This despicable crime, which cost the lives of a 1,000 Palestinian and Lebanese martyrs and was executed in cold blood by hostile forces with the support of the terrorist Ariel Sharon, must not remain unpunished," the Palestinian information ministry said in a statement.
"The international community must try those responsible for these massacres as war criminals," it added.
Ariel Sharon was defense minister of Israel during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Israel's ally, the Lebanese Forces Christian militia, entered the Sabra and Shatila camps and massacred the inhabitants while Israeli troops were deployed outside.
An Israeli commission later found the Jewish state indirectly responsible because it had failed to prevent the killing.
In Lebanon, Palestinians and Lebanese commemorated the 18th anniversary of the massacre.
An Italian member of the European parliament attended the commemoration at the site, now a rubbish dump but given a makeover for the occasion.
The mass killings were apparently in revenge for the September 14, 1982 assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who headed the Lebanese Forces.
An Israeli parliamentary commission found the Jewish state responsible for not preventing the massacre, which happened in the heat of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Relatives of the victims point an accusing finger at Elie Hobeika, now an outgoing pro-Syrian member of parliament but then the intelligence chief for the Lebanese Forces.
He denies all responsibility for the massacre.
For the first time since the massacre, a foreign delegation attended a rally in memory of the victims buried in a common grave. The Italian delegation was led by European parliamentarian Luisa Morgantini.
The burial site in wasteland covered with ochre-colored sand and surrounded by a wall and a group of small houses has recently been whitewashed by the local authority.
There is no inscription at the cemetery where all year round market traders dump rotten fruit and vegetables and where waste water from local houses runs and gives off nauseating smells. On the dry part of the cemetery, children play soccer.
Young Palestinians draped in Palestinian flags headed Saturday's procession from Shatila, which was followed by a troupe playing Scottish bagpipes, a throwback to the period of the British mandate in Palestine, from 1920 to 1948.
Lebanese, Palestinians and members of the Italian delegation then gathered in the cemetery for speeches. Among the speakers was Abu Maher Yamani, one of the founders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who condemned "the horrible massacre carried out by Zionists and their agents."
Morgantini said: "it is totally unacceptable that the cemetery is in such a state; it should be turned into a mausoleum and sealed off to stop it being profaned."
She told AFP that she planned to launch a fund-raising campaign so that "the victims (of the massacre) can rest in peace."
Away from the official ceremony, relatives recalled those three nightmare days from 1982.
Jajje Benuatti, 70, carries pictures of his four sons "killed by the Christian militia 18 years ago," inscribed on the photos.
Abu Sami Hrur, 28, who lost his father, his mother and four brothers and sisters in the massacre, said he only escaped by hiding in a dog kennel.
Adnan Moqdad, a Lebanese Shiite, says he lost 43 people close to him in the massacre.
"The heads of my 80-year-old parents were cut off. The streets of Shatila were littered with the bodies of decapitated old people, disemboweled women, young men riddled with bullet wounds and children with their heads smashed," he recalls.
Following the Israeli pullout from Beirut which followed the massacre, the Palestinians put up a commemorative plaque around the mass grave.
But during the fighting between the Palestinians and the pro-Syrian Amal militia from 1985 to 1988, the cemetery was left to waste.
There were also two smaller marches to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Bethlehem -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)