BEIRUT: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday aged 85, was widely reviled in Lebanon for his role in the invasion of the country in 1982 as well as the massacres at the Beirut-based Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
Sharon was commonly dubbed the “Butcher of Beirut” for his association with some of the worst atrocities during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War.
He was a part of the Israeli military since the country’s creation, as a member of the Jewish Haganah paramilitaries in the 1947-48 war that led to the “Nakba,” displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. He rose through the ranks with his belligerent military strategies, leading a brigade in the 1956 Suez War, and engineering the capture of the Sinai Peninsula 11 years later during the Six Day War.
However, it was in his political career that he will be most controversially remembered.
As Defense Minister he spearheaded the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, set up to root out Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and form a peace accord with the Beirut government. The invasion morphed into a long occupation, and inadvertently helped to confirm Hezbollah’s status as the resistance party.
In 1982, Israel’s ally Bashir Gemayel was assassinated by Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party member Habib Chartouni. Gemayel’s Kataeb fighters looked to the Palestinians to avenge the death and launched an attack of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, which were under Israeli control.
Hundreds of Palestinians, including many women and children, were brutally killed.
It was a massacre that Sharon was personally implicated in. A U.N. investigation the next year concluded that Israel was responsible for the attacks, and the Israeli-run Kahan Commission the same year determined that Sharon was personally accountable.
The Kahan report’s findings said that Sharon bore responsibility "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge" and "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed."
The conclusions led many to dub Sharon the “Butcher of Beirut” and forced him to resign from the defense post but he refused to leave Cabinet, remaining minister without portfolio.
His bellicose reputation continued into his tenure as prime minister.
In 2000, he walked brazenly into the Temple Mount complex which houses the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque, some of the holiest sites in Islam. The inflammatory move was widely attributed as sparking the Second Palestinian Intifada.
He was also associated with the widespread expansion of illegal outposts in the West Bank. As Housing Minister in the 1990s, he oversaw the biggest settlement drive in 20 years. However, despite his uncompromising attitude, in 2004 he signed into law a plan to re-house all settlers in the Gaza Strip.