Israel cabinet minister cancels UK trip over fears of war crimes arrest

[JURIST] An Israeli cabinet minister canceled a trip to the UK out of concern that he would be arrested for war crimes allegedly committed during his tenure as the Israeli military's chief of staff, a foreign affairs spokesperson said Monday. Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon [official profile] decided to call off the scheduled trip to attend a fundraising event for the Jewish National Fund [advocacy website] after legal advisers from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) [official website] said that he may be arrested over his involvement in a 2002 airstrike that killed Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilians. Israeli officials are concerned about the possibility of being charged with war crimes in foreign countries based on the theory of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder], which allows a country to prosecute serious crimes against humanity no matter where the activity takes place. A spokesperson for Yaalon said he made the decision not to travel [Guardian report] in order to avoid going along with anti-Israeli propaganda.

Last week, Palestinian officials attempted [Jerusalem Post report] to have Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak [official profile, in Hebrew] arrested on charges of war crimes while he was in Britain for a meeting with UK government leaders. The Palestinians submitted a court petition seeking the arrest of Barak for his involvement in Operation Cast Lead [Global Security Backgrounder] in the Gaza strip earlier this year. A British court rejected the petition, saying Barak was a state guest and not subject to such proceedings. In 2006, the MFA warned [JURIST report] top Israeli military officials that inflammatory statements some made about the conflict with Lebanon, such as advocating the bombing of villages that housed Hezbollah rebels, could lead to war crimes prosecutions abroad, the Israeli Army Radio reported Monday. Several Israeli Defense Forces [official website] generals opted not to take trips to Europe because they feared being arrested on war crimes charges. Israeli officials have said that government officials should enjoy immunity from prosecution but there is concern that military leaders, especially retired officials, could be subject to prosecution.

 

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