PROSPECT OF SHARON BEING TRIED IN BELGIUM ANGERS ISRAEL

THE AVIV 13 Feb. (IPS) As expected, Israel reacted with utter anger at Belgiumís Supreme Appeals Court ruling on Wednesday that a genocide lawsuit against Ariel Sharon could go ahead once he no longer enjoyed immunity as prime minister.

Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Israel's ambassador from Brussels for "consultations" over the decision he termed as "scandalous" and President Moshe Katsav, in a strong letter to King Albert II of Belgium, said that IDF troops had operated according to international norms and the laws of conscience and human morals, and that nobody could doubt that.

The Supreme Court also said investigations could precede against former Israeli division head Amos Yaron, who oversaw the Beirut sector in 1982 and lacks the same immunity as Sharon.

Yaron, director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, was the only other one named in the original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

The lower court's ruling halted a complaint filed against Sharon by 23 Palestinian survivors of the Sabra-Shatila refugee camp massacre in Lebanon in 1982.

"This decision is scandalous, and it legitimises terror and damages those who fight terrorism", Netanyahu said in a statement. "Belgium is hurting not only Israel but the entire free world, and Israel will respond to it very severely", he warned.

The statement said it takes very seriously the Belgian decision "to become involved in issues that have nothing to do with them", and that the ruling indicates that nations such as the U.S. can expect to find their citizens investigated for future activity in Iraq.

Netanyahu spoke to the Belgian ambassador to Israel, Wilfried Geens, and strongly protested the Belgian Supreme Court's verdict on prosecuting Israelis for their involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

"Israel will not accept another blood libel against the Jewish nation and Israel is not Europe, the verdict was more political than judicial. Belgium is giving a prize to terror", he said.

The court ruled that "international custom does not allow heads of government to be the subject of legal action in a foreign state", but it overturned a ruling made in June 2002 by a lower court, which said that Belgium's "universal competence" law only applies if the alleged perpetrator is in Belgium.

The unique "universal competence" law, adopted in 1993, enables Belgian courts to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide regardless of where the incidents occurred.

It has attracted numerous lawsuits brought by victims of alleged atrocities, including an Belgian citizen of Iranian origin who had filed a similar complaint against Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

[In a short item from Brussels about the Supreme Courtís ruling, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Belgian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Didier Seeuws as having said, "We have taken note of the Israeli reaction. We have no comments to make". Iranian newspapers are closed due to festivities on the anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution.]

In response to the ruling, according to which Yaron could be prosecuted for his involvement in the massacres, during which he was commander of the IDF forces in the Lebanese capital, the Foreign Minister recalled Israel's ambassador to Belgium, Yehudi Kinar.

Yaron said Thursday the decision made by the Belgian Supreme Court was political in nature, and dangerous. The ruling is a very severe decision, and Belgium is taking upon itself the mission of world judge. This is an attempt to rouse disorder in the world, in a manner that has no explanation."

Defense Ministry sources voiced outrage and concern about the decision making it possible to prosecute Yaron, who was in command of IDF forces in Beirut at the time of the massacre of some 800 Palestinians by Phalangist troops who were Israeli allies during the war.

However, some sources within the Foreign Ministry said the decision to recall the ambassador was an over-reaction, Army Radio reported Thursday. Among those questioning the decision is the former director-general of the ministry, Alon Liel.

"Recalling an ambassador is a very serious step," Liel said. "We have to remember that we are talking about a decision from a court, not from the Belgian government."

The head of the State Prosecutor's international division, Irit Kahan, who represented Israel at the Supreme Court hearing, told Army Radio Thursday morning that the ruling was a political decision, and that deliberations throughout the course of the hearing deviated from the accepted judicial norms, and veered towards the political realm.

Government sources expressed concern regarding the possibility of future prosecutions against Israelis in Belgium, based on Wednesday's court ruling. But they also noted that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was also in line for prosecution in Belgium, in the wake of complaints filed against him by Israeli terror victims. ENDS SHARON TRIAL 13203