UK reassures Israel on arrest fears

Foreign minister says officials need not fear prosecution for alleged war crimes while in Britain.

    William Hague, the UK foreign minister, said that there was no problem with Israeli officals going to the UK [AFP]

    Britain's foreign minister has pledged that the UK will quickly amend a law that has allowed pro-Palestinian activists to request arrest warrants for visiting Israeli officials over alleged war crimes.

    William Hague, in Israel on Thursday, said that Israeli officials could be sure they would not face arrest in the UK.

    "We are quite clear that there is no problem in any official travelling to London," Hague told Israeli channel 10 TV.

    According to a British embassy spokesman, quoted by the AFP news agency, Hague "reiterated the government's firm commitment to move as fast as it can on this matter".

    'Universal jurisdiction'

    Hague's comments were likely aimed at reassuring Israeli leaders after they suspended an annual strategic meeting in Britain last month due to fears they could be arrested under the principle of "universal jurisdiction".

    Activists in Britain have sought the arrest of Israeli officials under the principle, which allows courts to prosecute alleged war crimes from elsewhere in the world.

    While no cases have gone ahead, Israeli officials have cancelled multiple trips to Britain over the matter.

    On Wednesday, Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed that Israel had postponed the annual "strategic dialogue" with Britain in protest over the law.

    Those discussions between the two countries focus on defence and security issues.

    Legal concern

    Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said that the UK legal issue had been top on the agenda for Hague's visit.

    "This is something that is vital for Israel and they are not happy how, time and time again, its' officials have to cancel trips to the UK because of fear of being arrested for war crimes," she said.

    "The UK has said that this law needs to be changed but the question for Israel is when will the change happen."

    Earlier this week, Dan Meridor, Israel's intelligence minister, cancelled a trip to London over general concerns he risked being arrested. Local media speculated that the potential arrest was in connection with Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.

    In January, Gordon Brown, Britain's then Labour prime minister, pledged to change the law. This followed Tzipi Livni, an Israeli opposition leader who was foreign minister during the 2008-9 war on Gaza, cancelling a trip after a warrant for her arrest was issued, provoking a diplomatic spat.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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