JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister has cancelled a trip to Britain out of concern he could be arrested at the behest of pro-Palestinian groups seeking to press war crime charges, his office said on Thursday.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former director of the Shin Bet domestic spy service, was to have taken part in a London conference on Middle East peacemaking but withdrew on the advice of Israel’s Foreign and Justice Ministries. “The minister was told that there was a good chance he could be at risk of arrest,” Dichter’s chief of staff, Mati Gill, told Reuters. Dichter was among the planners of the 2002 assassination of
Hamas commander Saleh Shehada in an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip. The raid also killed 14 Palestinians civilians.
Doron Almog, an Israeli ex-general involved in the Shehada assassination, narrowly avoided arrest in London in 2005. He returned to Israel after being warned that a British magistrate, finding in favour of a motion filed by a Palestinian lobby, had ordered him to be detained on suspicion of war crimes. Gill said Dichter had planned to confer with British officials in London on terrorism issues. “This incident has not marred our bilateral ties, but it is a shame that an opportunity for Dichter to share from his experience has gone to waste,” Gill said.
A private war crimes lawsuit filed against Dichter in the United States in 2005 was thrown out by a federal judge who said the defendant could not be prosecuted for the Shehada assassination because he was a government official at the time.
Israel has come under international censure for its handling of a Palestinian revolt that erupted in 2000. Israel says its methods are an appropriate response to militants who operate in crowded Palestinian areas and use tactics like suicide bombings.
After Almog’s near-arrest, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asked British judicial authorities to review laws allowing magistrates to issue such arrest warrants.
Livni repeated the request during a visit by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband last month, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.