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UK attorneys seek Barak's arrest

Sept. 29, 2009 10:30 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 29, 2009 9:05 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Lawyers representing Palestinian families are seeking the arrest of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak for alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip, Al-Jazeera reported Monday.

A lawyer working for the families told the news network he will present their case at a magistrate’s court in London on Tuesday before British officials decide if it has the jurisdiction to decide the case.

Barak is due in Britain on Tuesday to address a meeting of the Labor Friends of Israel on the sidelines of the ruling party's annual conference in the city of Brighton. The families hope that an arrest warrant will be issued during his visit, Al-Jazeera said.

Michel Massih, the UK-based lawyer who is filing the case, said that he believed that the British government was obliged "to actively pursue people who are alleged to be involved in war crimes."

"One does not need, at this stage, to provide more than a basic prima face case and the suggestion would be that Barak certainly was in a position where he has to answer some of the allegations made about the commission of crimes by Israeli troops," he told Al-Jazeera in a televised interview from London.

According to international, Israeli, and Palestinian human rights groups, more than 1,400 Palestinians, at least one third of them women and children, were killed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza last December and January.

Also on Tuesday South African Judge Richard Goldstone is slated to present his 574-page report, the result of his fact-finding mission to Gaza, to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report found that both Israel and Palestinian armed groups had likely committed war crimes, and called for further investigations.

"If the Israeli courts were themselves to investigate, there would be no need to have recourse to international tribunals," Massih told Al-Jazeera.

"There are allegations of war crimes, there are families seeking redress and because these families are seeking redress they have asked the advice of lawyers in Palestine who have asked the advice of lawyers in the United Kingdom."

Anti-occupation campaigners, meanwhile, are planning demonstrations outside the conference hall during Barak’s visit.

“The presence of Ehud Barak in Brighton while Britain’s party of government is meeting is a disgrace. In January the people of Britain protested in hundreds of thousands at the massacre in Gaza which Barak, Israeli Minister of Defense, had ordered his armed forces to carry out,” said Betty Hunter, the general secretary of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in a statement.

Hunter added, “As a high contracting party to the Geneva Convention, the British government should be arresting Barak for war crimes, not treating him to dinner.”

In 2005, human rights groups criticized UK authorities for failing to arrest Doron Almog, an Israeli army general when he landed at London’s Heathrow airport, in spite of an outstanding arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.

According to Al-Jazeera, Almog was allow to stay on his plane after apparently being informed that he could face arrest, and was allowed to return to Israel.
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