Israel attacks BBC over Panorama programme

Israel's Foreign Ministry has accused the BBC of broadcasting blatantly biased reports about the country's Prime Minister in a bid to discredit the politician.

Israel's Foreign Ministry has accused the BBC of broadcasting blatantly biased reports about the country's Prime Minister in a bid to discredit the politician.

The attack centres on a Panorama programme examining whether Ariel Sharon would be indictable for war crimes over the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees.

The massacre of more than 800 men, women and children at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon was carried out by Israel's Christian Phalangist allies when Mr Sharon was defence minister.

It followed the assassination pro-Israel Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel, a Christian militia leader.

An official Israeli inquiry said, in 1983, that Sharon was indirectly responsible for the killings. It recommended his removal from office and he resigned. He made a political comeback and was elected Prime Minister on February 6 this year.

The BBC said it had asked Mr Sharon to comment on its Panorama programme, The Accused. His aide Ranaan Gissin gave an on-camera interview on Mr Sharon's behalf about the massacres, saying the Israelis had never expected the Phalangists would massacre the refugees.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yaffa Ben-Ari in a statement: "Israel views with utmost gravity the distorted, unfair, and intentionally hostile nature of the Panorama programme.

"The timing of the program ... shows lack of good faith and an attempt to tarnish Israel and its leader."

An Israeli Government spokesman, Avi Pazner, said the program was "utter nonsense."

One of the experts interviewed in the programme was Richard Falk, professor of International Law at Princeton University in the US, who had been vice chairman of an international commission that investigated Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

"There is no question in my mind that he is indictable for the knowledge he had or should have had," Falk said. "...Sharon's specific command responsibility arises from the fact that he was the minister of defence in touch with the field commanders, that he actually was present there in Beirut."

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