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London court issued arrest warrant for Livni

16 December 2009

Via FT.com

By James Blitz in London and Vita Bekker in Tel Aviv

A warrant for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the Israeli opposition leader, was formally issued by a London magistrates court last Saturday, one day before she had been scheduled to address a conference in the capital, insiders close to the case have told the Financial Times.

In a move that has triggered acute embarrassment for the British government in its relations with Israel, Westminster magistrates court ordered the issue of an arrest warrant for Ms Livni, a move that would have led to her immediate detention by police upon arrival in the UK.

Israel’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned that its relations with Britain could be damaged, as would Britain’s role in Mideast peacemaking, should there not be “decisive and immediate” action to prevent such arrest warrants against Israeli officials in the future.

It said in a statement: “If the leaders of Israel will not be able to visit Britain in a respectable and appropriate manner, it would naturally be a real obstacle to Britain’s willingness to play an active role in the Middle East peace process.”

The former Israeli foreign minister was due to address the Jewish National Fund in London last Sunday.

On Monday her spokesman in Jerusalem said Ms Livni’s decision not to travel was due to pressure on her schedule and was in no way connected to expectations that she might be arrested by British police.

However, the issue of the warrant – almost certainly for alleged war crimes in connection with Ms Livni’s role as Israeli foreign minister – has caused intense irritation in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, amid concerns Israeli politicians are finding it increasingly hard to visit the UK.

The FCO last night issued a statement saying: “The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel. To do this, Israel’s leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British Government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case.”

Pressure groups have for some time sought to persuade Westminster’s magistrates court to issue arrest warrants for visiting Israeli politicians. In September the court rejected a petition calling for the arrest of Ehud Barak, Israeli defence minister, on the grounds that he committed war crimes for his oversight of Operation Cast Lead, the three-week attack on the Gaza Strip in late December, 2008. In Mr Barak’s case the petition was rejected because he was a serving government official, while Ms Livni would have been on a private visit.

In September 2005, major general Doron Almog arrived in London but was forced to fly back to Israel for fear he would be arrested. General Almog, who had been accused of illegally ordering the destruction of 59 homes in the Gaza Strip in 2002, was reportedly tipped off that a warrant had been issued.

The FCO insisted that the issue of an arrest warrant for any foreign national would always be a matter solely for a UK court.

“The Israelis are aware of the potential for a private application for an arrest warrant to be sought, as happened previously when Defence Minister Barak visited,” the FCO said.

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