Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Britain condemns Livni arrest warrant

As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald:

JERUSALEM: Britain has vowed to change laws that enabled a warrant for the arrest of the Israeli Opposition Leader, Tzipi Livni, on Monday.

The warrant was issued by a London court against Ms Livni on suspicion of war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week offensive against against Hamas in Gaza that began on December 27 last year.

At the time of Operation Cast Lead, which occurred in the lead-up to general elections held in February, Ms Livni was Israel's caretaker foreign minister and also leader of the then governing Kadima party. The arrest warrant was issued at the request of lawyers representing a number of Palestinian rights organisations, but was rescinded immediately after it became apparent that Ms Livni was not actually in the country.

Ms Livni's office has confirmed that she was planning to visit London but had cancelled the trip due to ''scheduling problems''. According to a statement issued by Ms Livni's office, the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, expressed ''shock'' at the arrest warrant, and promised ''to work immediately to ensure that a similar occurrence would not happen in the future'' against Ms Livni or other Israeli leaders.

In a phone call to Ms Livni on Tuesday, Mr Miliband said he was appalled by the issuing of the warrant.

''It's not personal,'' Ms Livni was quoted telling him. ''It's about the entire state of Israel and our ability to go on working together against common threats,'' she said.

Speaking on Tuesday at the Institute for Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Ms Livni said she regretted none of the decisions made during Operation Cast Lead. ''I would take the same decisions, each and every one,'' she said.

The arrest warrant has provoked a furious reaction from Israeli Government officials, who have demanded British law be changed.

Mr Miliband reportedly told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that the warrant was ''completely unacceptable'' and stressed the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

Britain's ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips, was given a severe dressing down by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national security adviser Uzi Arad, who claimed the arrest warrant was ''an immoral act aimed against Israel's right to self-defence''.

Mr Netanyahu's office also released a statement utterly rejecting ''the absurdity that is happening in Great Britain''. ''We will not agree to a situation in which [former prime minister] Ehud Olmert, [Defence Minister] Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni will be summoned to the bench.''

Earlier this year, other Israeli officials including the Vice Prime Minister, Moshe Yaalon, and Shin Bet chief, Avi Dichter, cancelled visits to Britain because of the threat of arrest.

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