UK to ‘vigorously defend’ legal challenge to Israel policy

London, Feb 24, IRNA – A historic legal case effectively challenging the British government’s relations with Israel was launched at London’s High Court with the Foreign Office insisting it would forcefully respond to accusations.
“The UK takes its domestic and international legal obligations very seriously, and will vigorously defend proceedings” being initiated by Public Interest Lawyers (Pil) in behalf of Palestinian human right group, al-Haq, said a Foreign Office spokesman.

“The series of claims made by PIL are wholly inapt for resolution in domestic legal proceedings. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this at this stage,” the spokesman said.

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Al-Haq is applying for a judicial review regarding accusation of the refusals made by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Defense Secretary John Hutton and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to comply with international law.

“The UK has clear international law obligations to do something effective to stop Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians,” said PIL’s human right solicitor, Phil Shiner.

But the Foreign Office insisted that the government had a firm policy to “continue to work hard in an effort to secure peace” in the Middle East.

“From the outset of the recent conflict the government worked around the clock to achieve an immediate ceasefire,” the spokesman said.

He also said that the UK was “pushing hard for urgent action to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the re-opening of crossings into Gaza” and had made “clear that credible allegations of war crimes and serious violations of international obligations by either side in the conflict should be investigated.”

The historical legal case is aimed to make the UK government focus on its legal obligations, beyond what PIL described as “ineffective hand-wringing pleas for Israel to behave properly, which, to date, have fallen on deaf ears”.

Shiner said Britain’s international obligations with regard to Israel’s attacks on Palestinians include “not rendering aid or assistance to Israel or recognising the illegal situation it has created in Gaza, and to co-operating with other states using all lawful means to bring the situation to an end”.

He said this means that the UK’s continuing policy of arms trading with Israel is “completely out of bounds, as is our role in continuing with the EU preferential trading agreement”.

But according to the Foreign Office, the UK already has “some of the tightest regulations in the world for arms sales.”

The government, he said “monitor the situation in Israel with care in considering applications for arms export licences.”

Shawan Jabarin, general director of al-Haq, said he was in London with the hope that Britain’s judicial system will provide “at the very least, hope for the Palestinian people and again provide meaning to the principle of justice and international law”.

PIL, which has come to prominence following its success in making UK troops accountable for human rights violations in Iraq, previously brought legal action against the UK government to end its arms sales to Israel.