Israeli ex-military chief cancels trip to
UK over threat of war crimes arrest
'Targeted' actions in Gaza may attract
Present chief of staff told not to visit London
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Friday September 16, 2005
former Israeli military chief, Moshe Yaalon, has cancelled a trip to
London for fear of arrest on war crimes charges relating to attacks on
Palestinian civilians and property.
authorities have also warned the present chief of staff, General Dan
Halutz, to avoid travel to the UK after a warrant was issued in London
against a third officer, retired major general Doron Almog, for alleged
crimes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli diplomats helped Mr Almog to evade
arrest when he flew into Heathrow on Sunday by warning him not to leave
warrant has infuriated the Israeli government. The foreign minister,
Silvan Shalom, described it as "scandalous" and planned to press the
foreign secretary, Jack Straw, for a change in the law that makes such
arrests possible. Aides of Ariel Sharon said he was considering raising
the issue at a meeting with Tony Blair at the UN in New York yesterday.
Mr Yaalon, who
retired as a major general in June, called off his visit to a
fundraising event for an Israeli soldiers' welfare association this
weekend after officials received information that warrants were being
sought against him and Gen Halutz by lawyers in London acting for
But both men are
vulnerable over the army's policy of mass house demolitions in the Gaza
Strip, which critics say are illegal under international law, and
"targeted killings" supposedly aimed at Palestinian fighters but which
have resulted in the death of large numbers of civilians.
Mr Yaalon and Gen
Halutz, who previously led the air force, were both involved in the
decision in 2002 to drop a one-tonne bomb on a Gaza City residential
neighbourhood in order to kill the Hamas military chief, Salah Shehadeh.
The bomb killed 14 civilians, most of them children.
The warrant against
Mr Almog, who was the army commander in Gaza until 2003, accused him of
war crimes for the demolition of 59 houses in the Rafah refugee camp.
The army says the
destruction of houses in Gaza, which left about 20,000 homeless, was to
combat weapons smuggling and prevent attacks by armed Palestinians. But
human rights groups have accused it of punitive demolitions and the
illegal clearing of areas to push Palestinians away from Jewish
magistrates refused to order Mr Almog's arrest over several killings in
the Gaza Strip for lack of evidence but granted the warrant on the house
demolitions. A tape recording appears to capture the former general
ordering the destruction of the homes. The Israeli-British lawyer who
sought the arrest warrant, Daniel Machover, said he pursued the case in
London because Israel's high court has ruled that the Geneva conventions
do not apply in the occupied territories and that the demolitions are
legal under regulations inherited from British rule.
"It's not possible
for victims of punitive house demolitions to get a remedy in Israel.
They've attempted to do that many many times. The only cases we have
taken on are for clients who have sought and failed to get a remedy in
the Israeli courts," said Mr Machover.
Some Arab residents
of occupied East Jerusalem say they plan to seek redress through the
British courts against city officials and politicians who ordered the
demolition of homes, allegedly as part of a policy of discrimination
Mr Machover has urged
Scotland Yard to launch a criminal investigation of Israeli embassy
officials who helped Mr Almog avoid arrest. Brigadier General Zvi
Gendelman, a defence attache, boarded an El Al plane at Heathrow and
told Mr Almog not to leave. Mr Machover wants the Foreign Office to act
against the Israeli diplomats responsible for perverting the course of
justice and an inquiry into why police failed to board the plane. He
said he hopes fear of arrest abroad will make Israeli soldiers consider
the legality of their actions.
The Israeli high court yesterday ordered the government to reroute a
section of the West Bank barrier because of its impact on several
Palestinian villages. But the court upheld the government's right to
build the barrier in the occupied territories.
FAQ: Why would soldiers face prosecution?
Which law is being cited?
Retired Major General
Doron Almog and other Israeli officers face arrest under the Geneva
Conventions Act 1957 that permits the prosecution in Britain of alleged
war criminals whatever their nationality and even if their actions were
What is Almog accused of?
Lawyers in London
obtained an arrest warrant against him for allegedly breaching an
article of the fourth Geneva Convention that makes a crime of "extensive
destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military
necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly". As commander of the
army in Gaza for three years after the intifada started in 2000 he is
accused of giving orders for the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian
What about the army chief of staff and his predecessor?
Human rights groups
say Moshe Yaalon and Dan Halutz (left) face arrest on similar grounds or
for breaching other articles of the conventions over the killing of
civilians, including setting policies which permitted soldiers to shoot
Palestinians as young as 12.