On Thursday, 16 September, the I.D.F. surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut to flush out terrorists, confiscate weapons and strengthen the Maronite regime in the wake of Bashir Gemayel's assassination. In the following ten days, vast amounts of arms were removed, including 12 pieces of artillery, 8 heavy mortars, and 520 tons of ammunition. A decision concerning the use of Phalangist elements in the camps was reached a day earlier. They entered the camps in the late evening of 16 September and the massacres began. They lasted all day Friday and ended by late night Saturday. Reports began to filter out on Friday morning, when the Chief of Staff and the Foreign Minister were alerted. The Prime Minister first heard of the massacre from a foreign news broadcast. He and the rest of Israel were celebrating the Jewish New Year on Saturday and Sunday, 18 and 19 September. On the 19th, reporters entered the camps and confirmed that hundreds of Palestinians had been massacred. In Israel there was consternation and the Cabinet met in an extraordinary session and issued the following communique:
On the New Year, a blood libel was levelled at the Jewish State and its Government, against the Israel Defense Forces.
In a place where there was no position of the Israeli army, a Lebanese unit entered a refugee center where terrorists were hiding, in order to apprehend them. This unit caused many casualties to innocent civilians. We state this fact with deep grief and regret. The I.D.F., as soon as it learned of the tragic events in the Shatila camp, put an end to the slaughter of the innocent civilian population and forced the Lebanese unit to evacuate the camp. The civilian population itself gave clear expression to its gratitude for the act of salvation by the I.D.F. All the direct or implicit accusations that the I.D.F. bear any blame whatsoever for this human tragedy in the Shatila Camp are entirely baseless and without any foundation. The Government of Israel rejects them with the contempt which they deserve.
The fact remains that without the intervention of the I.D.F., there would have been much greater loss of life. It is also necessary to note that for two days and nights the Israel Defense Forces carried out actions against terrorists in West Beirut and no complaints whatsoever were voiced concerning civilian casualties.
It has become evident that the terrorists grossly violated the evaluation agreement, not only by leaving two thousand of them in West Beirut, but also by hiding away immense quantities of weapons, including heavy arms, such as tanks, artillery, mortars, and huge amounts of ammunition. All this was done in order to continue with the bloody terror against Israel and other nations from west Beirut.
Despite the internal incitement, we call upon the people of Israel to unite around its democratically elected government in its struggle for security and peace for Israel and all its citizens. No one will preach to us ethics and respect for human life, values on which we have educated, and will continue to educate generations of Israeli fighters.