The former head of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip has said he was warned by diplomats not to leave an aircraft that had landed in London after a tip-off that British police were waiting to arrest him on war crimes charges.
Reserve Major-General Doron Almog said he arrived in London on Sunday on a flight of Israeli carrier El Al for a scheduled three-day visit with Jewish communities aimed at raising funds for a centre in Israel for brain-damaged children.
"We were about to get off the plane, then one of the stewards came up to me and said the pilot asked that I disembark last," he told Israeli Army Radio on Monday.
"After some time, the chief steward said that the Israeli military attachÃ© was on his way and wanted to speak to me. I phoned him and he told me not to get off the plane."
Almog said he was told that a British Muslim group had filed an allegation of war crimes arising from his command of the military in Gaza from the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000 to July 2003.
During his term, Israel dropped a one-tonne bomb on the home of a Hamas leader, killing the man, an assistant and 14 civilians, nine of them children.
Hurndall was shot dead by troops
during a Gaza raid in April 2003
Almog said that following the advice of the Israeli military attachÃ©, he and his wife remained on the plane and flew back to Israel on its return.
Officials at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment on Almog's story. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was taking the incident seriously and seeking clarifications from British authorities.
Last year, activists in Britain sought an arrest warrant against Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz during a visit to London.
They accused the former army chief of responsibility for the death or injury of more than 50 people, including British peace activist Tom Hurndall, who was shot dead by troops during a Gaza raid in April 2003.
A judge refused to issue a warrant on the grounds that Mofaz enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
Risk of arrest
Almog said any Israeli officer could be at risk of arrest in Britain for having performed his duty.
"They could do this tomorrow to any officer who has served in the Israeli army over the past five years and has fought the hard fight against terror," he said.
Robbie Sable, a former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said it was unlikely that the British police would have arrested Almog.
"Any country can bring to trial people accused of war crimes, but there is a great deal of doubt whether a British court would issue an arrest warrant," he told the radio.
"Courts in organised countries do not act on malicious litigation and this was definitely malicious litigation."