Middle East
Israeli minister avoids UK visit
Vice-prime minister calls off trip amid fears he could be arrested for war crimes.
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2009 04:40 GMT

Yaalon was the military chief of staff when an Israeli air raid killed 15 people in Gaza City [EPA]

Israel's vice-prime minister has cancelled a planned trip to London over fears that he could be arrested for alleged war crimes, his spokesman says.

Moshe Yaalon called off the trip fearing that pro-Palestinian groups in London might seek his trial for his role in the 2002 deaths of 15 people, including a Hamas leader and eight children.

Yaalon was the military chief-of-staff when an Israeli fighter jet dropped a one-tonne bomb in Gaza City, killing Salah Shehadeh, head of the armed wing of Hamas, along with his wife.

Israel's foreign ministry advised against the planned trip after it emerged that Yaalon, who is also strategic affairs minister, had been invited to attend a fund-raising dinner hosted by the British branch of the Jewish National Fund.  

Barak arrest attempt

Last Tuesday Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, dismissed a bid to have him arrested in Britain as "absurd" while attending the governing Labour party's annual conference.
British activists had sought his arrest over Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip in December-January, where more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

The request was denied on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

Similar attempts have been made in the past by activists in a number of other countries, notably South Africa, to have visiting Israeli officials arrested for alleged war crimes.

In December 2007, Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet internal security agency, turned down an invitation to visit Britain after being advised he could be arrested for his role in the same assassination.

Earlier this year, a Spanish court shelved a judge's investigation into a 2002 Israeli air raid, siding with prosecutors who said the European country lacked jurisdiction.

Goldstone report outcry

The cancellation of Yaalon's trip also comes against a backdrop of growing anger among Palestinians over a decision by the UN to defer voting on a report condemning the conduct of the Israeli military and Hamas fighters.

In depth

  Video: Anger at Abbas
  Video interview: Richard Goldstone
  Timeline: Gaza War
  Analysis: War crimes in Gaza?
  Goldstone's full report to the UN rights council
  Key points of the Goldstone report
  UN inquiry finds Gaza war crimes
  'Half of Gaza war dead civilians'

The Goldstone report, released last month, investigated the Israeli offensive on the Palestinian territory last December and January.

Various Palestinian groups and human rights bodies have reacted strongly to the Palestinian Authority's decision to back the delay in the vote till March.

They say the postponement lets Israelis off the hook for alleged war crimes.

The 575-page report by Richard Goldstone, a South African ex-judge appointed by the UN, blames both the Israelis and Hamas for war crimes, but is more critical of Israeli troops for "targeting and terrorising civilians".

Goldstone's findings were meant to be passed on to the UN Security Council after the planned UN Human Rights Council vote.

Israel and the Palestinians would have then got six months to impartially investigate the war-crimes allegations.

While Hamas has already promised investigations, Israel has been loath to undertake any such exercise, fuelling accusations that it is indifferent to "excesses committed by its troops".

About 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Israeli attacks, while 13 Israelis died due to incidents related to the war.

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