BEIRUT - A pro-Syrian former militia leader who once was allied with Israel said yesterday he is ready to testify in a Belgian lawsuit seeking indictment of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut.
Elie Hobeika, who was intelligence chief of the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces militia at the time of the killings, said his intention is to clear his name and that of Lebanon's Christians.
Hobeika, 44, was named by an official Israeli inquiry in 1983 as the man who ordered the killings of more than 800 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. The inquiry report said then that "the Phalangist unit that was supposed to enter the camps was an intelligence unit ... headed by Elie Hobeika."
"I openly declare that I am very satisfied that the Sabra and Chatila case has been brought to Belgium, perhaps giving me the first opportunity in 19 years to tell the truth and defend myself and my reputation ... and get cleared of this accusation," said Hobeika, a former Cabinet minister.
Hobeika said at a news conference he has "irrefutable proof" of his innocence in the killings on September 16-18, 1982. He did not elaborate.
The militiamen entered the Sabra and Chatila camps two days after their leader, President-elect Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated in a bombing initially blamed on Palestinian guerrillas.
The Lebanese Forces militia, which was dominated by the Phalange Party, was allowed inside the camps by Israeli troops who seized the Lebanese capital during the invasion of the country. But Israeli officials say they never expected the militiamen to kill Palestinian civilians.
Hobeika, who rarely speaks about the subject, said "this is the appropriate moment to act after a long silence."
Asked if he would testify against Sharon, Hobeika replied: "I will defend myself and prove my innocence."