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Page last updated at 21:07 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

UK ponders law change after Tzipi Livni arrest warrant

Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis: "This can never ever happen again"

The government is "urgently" looking into reforming the law after a UK court issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

The warrant was granted by a London court at the request of Palestinian plaintiffs, provoking Israeli anger.

It was revoked on Monday when it was found Ms Livni was not visiting the UK.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Israel was a "close friend" of the UK's and stressed he was keen to "avoid this sort of situation arising again".

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have tried several times to have Israeli officials arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that some alleged crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere, regardless of where the offences were committed.

Ms Livni was foreign minister during Israel's Gaza assault last winter.

The Government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again
David Miliband, UK Foreign Secretary

She said the court had been "abused" by the Palestinian plaintiffs who requested the warrant at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

In a statement on Tuesday evening Mr Miliband said: "Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend of the UK."

"We are determined to protect and develop these ties. Israeli leaders - like leaders from other countries - must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British government.

Tzipi Livni: "It's about time to put terrorists on trial and not those who try to stop terror"

"The procedure by which arrest warrants can be sought and issued without any prior knowledge or advice by a prosecutor is an unusual feature of the system in England and Wales.

"The Government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again."

UK ambassador rebuked

It was the first time a UK court had issued a warrant for the arrest of a former Israeli minister.

"What needs to be put on trial here is the abuse of the British legal system," Ms Livni told the BBC.

"This is not a suit against Tzipi Livni, this is not a lawsuit against Israel. This is a lawsuit against any democracy that fights terror."

She stood by her decisions during the three-week Gaza offensive which began in December last year, she said.

Israel's foreign ministry summoned the UK's ambassador to Israel to deliver a rebuke over the warrant.

Israeli air strike in Rafah, Gaza, on 13 January 2009

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the situation was "an absurdity".

"We will not accept a situation in which [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert, [Defence Minister] Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will be summoned to the defendants' chair," Mr Netanyahu said in a statement.

"We will not agree to have Israel Defence Force soldiers, who defended the citizens of Israel bravely and ethically against a cruel and criminal enemy, be recognised as war criminals. We completely reject this absurdity taking place in Britain," he said.

Israel denies claims by human rights groups and the UN investigator Richard Goldstone that its forces committed war crimes during the operation, which it said was aimed at ending Palestinian rocket fire at its southern towns.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has also been accused of committing war crimes during the conflict.

Israel says it fully complies with international law, which it says it interprets in line with other Western countries such as the US and UK.

PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS TO ARREST ISRAELI OFFICIALS
Oct 2009: Former military chief Moshe Yaalon cancelled a UK visit because of fears of arrest for alleged war crimes
Oct 2009: Filed attempt to raise warrant against Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Court ruled he had diplomatic immunity
Sept 2005: Arrest warrant issued for a former head of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip Gen Doron Almog. He received warning before disembarking from an aircraft at Heathrow Airport, and flew back to Israel

On Monday Ms Livni's office had denied the reports that a warrant had been issued and that she had cancelled plans to visit the UK because of fears of arrest.

It said a planned trip had been cancelled two weeks earlier because of scheduling problems.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 people were killed during Israel's Cast Lead operation between 27 December 2008 and 16 January 2009, more than half of them civilians.

Israel puts the number of deaths at 1,166 - fewer than 300 of them civilians. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers were also killed.



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