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UK seeks to assure Israel over changing universal jurisdiction


London : British Foreign Office Wednesday sought to assure Israel about government plans to prevent the arrest of Israeli leaders for alleged war crimes when visiting the UK.

“We share Israeli concerns about the current universal jurisdiction arrangements which inhibit Israelis visiting the UK without fear of mischievous arrest warrants,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

‘That’s exactly why the government is moving as quickly as possible to amend them. A Written Ministerial Statement was tabled to parliament in July and legislation will be tabled in the very near future,” the spokeswoman said.

Her statement came as Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Israel Wednesday amid reports that Israel is postponing its ‘strategic dialogue’ with Britain over defence and security issues in protest over the delay in amending the law.

The Foreign Office said that Britain remained committed to the strategic dialogue with Israel that was due to be held in the UK last month, and was “discussing dates for the next round.”

Israeli deputy prime minister and minister for intelligence and atomic energy Dan Meridor became the latest victim of the law when he was forced to cancel a visit to London this week following warnings he could be arrested for alleged war crimes.

Meridor was due to attend a London fundraising dinner on Monday but pulled out of the event after reports that a British court was being asked to issue an arrest warrant relating to his alleged involvement in May’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, when nine activists were killed.

Concern about the application of universal jurisdiction started in November last year, when former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni cancelled a visit to the UK at the last minute when a warrant was issued for her arrest over alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced in July that Britain’s coalition Government was determined to change the law so that arrest warrants would require the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer before any prosecution for war crimes could be brought.

On Tuesday, Prison and Probation Minister Crispin Blunt repeated in parliament that an amendment to the law would be made “at the first opportunity” but without mentioning any date.

Over 90 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion in parliament stating that they would vote against any change to the principle of universal jurisdiction.