Ex-Israel PM Sharon was a 'criminal'

A senior Palestinian figure labelled Israeli former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, as a criminal and expressed regret he was never taken before the International Criminal Court.

"Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of (Palestinian president Yasser) Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal," said Jibril Rajub, a senior official of the Fatah party.

Arafat died in France in November on November 11, 2004, while Sharon, who died on Saturday had been in coma since 2006.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said Sharon's death was a "historic moment," marking the "disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood."

Ahmed Yassin, who was founder and spiritual leader of the militant Hamas movement, was assassinated by Israel under Sharon's leadership in 2004.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, also regretted that Sharon never faced justice, particularly over his role in the Beirut camp killings.

"It's a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses," she said in a statement.

"His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer. For the thousands of victims of abuses, Sharon's passing without facing justice magnifies their tragedy."

In 1982, as defence minister, Sharon masterminded Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon, when troops besieged the Beirut headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

His term as defence minister was ended after an Israeli committee placed personal but "indirect" responsibility on him for the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.