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Israel Rejects British Legal Threat To Ex-Minister

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Israel Rejects British Legal Threat To Ex-Minister

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Israel Rejects British Legal Threat To Ex-Minister

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Israeli government has condemned an attempt in Britain to arrest a former Israeli minister for war crimes. Over the weekend, an arrest warrant was issued in London for Tzipi Livni. She served as foreign minister during Israel's invasion of Gaza one year ago.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Tzipi Livni was due to attend a conference in London last weekend when a court issued a warrant for her arrest, apparently at the request of lawyers acting for a group of Palestinians. However, since she did not in the end travel to Britain, the warrant was dropped. Today, Livni responded angrily to the news, saying it wasn't a warrant aimed at her, but an action against Israel. Now, she defended Israel's use of force in Gaza earlier this year.

Ms. TZIPI LIVNI (Former Foreign Minister, Israel): The decisions that we made are the same decisions that any country who wants to defend its citizens would've taken. And it's about time to put terrorists on trial and not those who tried to stop terror and bring life or bring peace to our region.

GIFFORD: Livni said she was proud of her actions as foreign minister and that all necessary steps were taken to avoid civilian casualties in the Gaza offensive � the claim which many Palestinian and human rights groups reject. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, 13 Israelis lost their lives. The British government said it was urgently looking into the implication of the case. Last month, the British ambassador in Israel said his government did not support action in the British courts against Israeli leaders but he said it is bound by existing laws.

Under the concept of universal jurisdiction, some crimes are considered to be serious enough that they can be prosecuted in Britain, no matter where they took place. Abdel Bari Atwan is editor-in-chief of al-Quds, an Arabic newspaper published in London. He rejected the argument that such legal moves against Israeli leaders jeopardize the peace process.

Mr. ABDEL BARI ATWAN (Editor-in-chief, al-Quds): What peace process? The peace process undermined completely because of the Israeli insistent to build settlements on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. And this is a clear violation of the international legality. So there is no peace process at all. And the Israelis are responsible for derailing the peace process. So, I think Israel should not isolate Britain. I think Britain should isolate Israel.

GIFFORD: The warrant is the latest in a number of such incidents to make life uncomfortable for senior Israeli leaders who might come to Britain and has caused concern in Israel. In September, pro-Palestinian lawyers failed in an attempt to use the universal jurisdiction law to arrest Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, when he came to Britain. London lawyer Tayab Ali, who was involved in the attempt to obtain the warrant for Barak's arrest, told NPR today he would be willing to act for anyone seeking the arrest of people suspected of war crimes but he would not comment on the warrant issued for arrest of Tzipi Livni.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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