Friday, March 27, 2009

UK to Israel: War crimes law unchangeable now

Sun, 22 Mar 2009 07:48:06 GMT
In 2005, Doron Almog managed to avoid arrest in Britain by remaining on board a plane at Heathrow airport
The British government says it cannot change for now a law that allows for the arrest of Israel's visiting authorities over war crimes.

In an unofficial message to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Britain said that due to Israel's public image in the country following its massive strike against the Gaza Strip, London believes it will be unable to pass an amendment to the legislation before next year's elections, Haaretz reported.

The Israeli offensive, namely Operation Cast Lead, triggered a wave of outrage worldwide as it left more than 1,434 Palestinians, including 960 civilians, killed and thousands more injured.

Suspected use of forbidden ammunitions, such as white phosphorus and depleted uranium, testimonies by Israeli officers on racist and religious motifs among their comrades, and UN reports of wanton killings of civilians raised protests to Israeli war crimes and 'even crimes against humanity' during the 23-day-long onslaught.

Under British law, UK citizens can press war crime charges against foreigners, who could be arrested upon entry into Britain once an indictment has been issued.

In 2005, Maj. Gen. Doron Almog flew to London but decided not to leave the plane when he was informed British police were waiting to arrest him.

An arrest warrant had been issued against him for his role in the controversial demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah.

Almog remained on the aircraft and returned to Israel but his case has caused senior Israeli army officers in both active and reserve service, including former chiefs of staff and cabinet ministers (Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz), to avoid traveling to Britain ever since.

Britain's government, first under former premier Tony Blair and recently under his successor Gordon Brown, had promised to pass changes in the legislation so that private citizens would first have to obtain the approval of the chief prosecutor to be able to press war crimes charges.

While Israeli diplomats are seeking support for such an amendment from Conservative lawmakers, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor on Saturday urged London to find a way to fulfill its promise.

But the British Foreign Office described the measure as "a complex legal issue".


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