Threat of arrest prompts Israelis to cancel UK trip


AN ISRAELI military delegation was forced to cancel a trip to the UK last week after the British authorities failed to provide guarantees that arrest warrants would not be issued over alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza war a year ago.

The delegation of senior Israel defence force officers, which included a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a major, was invited by the British army, but London was unable to promise there would be no legal moves against the soldiers.

Israeli officials warned their British counterparts that bilateral relations were being jeopardised as long as the current situation continued.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon met yesterday in Jerusalem with visiting British attorney general Baroness Scotland of Asthal and told her the current situation, whereby Israelis cannot travel freely to the UK, was “insufferable”.

Mr Ayalon noted that most Israelis served in the army, and he warned that “should we not get the appropriate securities, and if the British law remains unchanged, Israeli officers and officials will not be able to travel to Britain, which would undermine the good relations between the two countries, who share common values and interests”.

Baroness Scotland promised that the British authorities were considering various courses of action aimed at solving the problem.

Pro-Palestinian groups in Britain stepped up efforts against visiting Israelis after a UN panel, headed by retired South African jurist Richard Goldstone, found both Israel and militant Palestinian groups guilty of committing war crimes during the three-week conflict in Gaza.

It was revealed last month that the head of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was Israel’s foreign minister during the Gaza war, cancelled a trip to London after a British judge issued an arrest warrant against her.

Following the incident British prime minister Gordon Brown apologised to Ms Livni, telling her she was welcome in Britain. He promised to work to change the law in order to avoid such incidents in future.

In a separate development yesterday, the Palestinian Authority reacted angrily to the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to approve new homes for 24 Jewish families on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem, on land captured by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “destroying peace by violating international law and UN resolutions”.