Olmert may face war crimes arrest

LONDON:Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister during the Gaza war, would probably face arrest on war crimes charges if he visited Britain, according to a UK lawyer who is working to expand the application of “universal jurisdiction” for offenses involving serious human rights abuses committed anywhere in the world.

Neither Olmert nor Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister during the Cast Lead offensive, and a member of Israel’s war cabinet, would enjoy immunity from prosecution for alleged breaches of the Geneva conventions, predicted Daniel Machover, who is involved

in intensifying legal work after the controversial Goldstone report on the three-

week conflict. Neither are ministers any longer.

Prosecutions of Israeli political and military figures remain likely despite the failure to obtain an arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, the defence minister, when he visited the UK earlier this month, he said. In the Barak case a magistrate accepted advice from the Foreign Office that the minister enjoyed state immunity and rejected an application made on behalf of several residents of the Gaza Strip. “This needs to be tested at the right time and in the right place,” Machover said. “One day one of these people will make a mistake and go to the wrong country and face a criminal process — and then it’ll be a matter for the courts of that country to give them a fair trial: that’s what the Palestinian victims want.”

The death toll for the war was some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Israel insists it acted in legitimate self-defence in response to rocket attacks by Hamas.

Police sources denied a claim that police maintain a “watch list” of Israeli officers who would face arrest if they try to enter the country.

In 2005 General Doron Almog was tipped off that he was about to be arrested before leaving a plane at London-Heathrow airport.

Last month a former chief of staff, General Moshe Ya’alon, cancelled a visit to Britain, apparently for fear of arrest.