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Former Israeli MK won't travel abroad for fear of war crimes charges

Oct. 28, 2009 8:20 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 29, 2009 3:26 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, wanted for war crimes in Europe, declared in the Israeli press Wednesday that he is "willing to forgo visits to European capitals and to allow the Israel Defense Forces the freedom to act."

Ya'alon, the former Israeli chief of staff for the army, is wanted on charges of war crimes for the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh, who was killed alongside 14 civilians in July 2002. He is one of several Israeli officials and former officials with warrants outstanding in various world capitals.

The official's announcement comes as increasing support for an International Criminal Court inquiry into war crimes that may have been committed by Israeli troops, and their commanders echoes in Europe and North America. Several speaking engagements of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were interrupted by protesters last week, during one, protesters called on police to make a citizens arrest of the leader for the alleged crimes.

Ya'alon told Israel's Army Radio that he did not see travel cancellations as a "big loss" if it meant the Israeli military can act with a free hand.

Last month, British officials refused a petition calling for the arrest of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on suspicion of war crimes. Separately, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said he would not shorten his trip to the UK out of fear over a possible arrest. Israel's army radio reported, however, that the Israeli embassy in London planed to increase the official's security detail.

Israel has also recently considered cutting off diplomatic relations with Sweden and Turkey over media and television shows that angered Israeli politicians. A Swedish journalist uncovered evidence of organ harvesting targeting Palestinian prisoners by Israeli troops, and Turkey's government-sponsored television channel is currently airing a series that deals with Israeli atrocities alleged to have taken place during the most recent Israeli war on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this week there would be no independent Israeli inquiry into the allegations of the UN-mandated Goldstone report, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 16 October. The report calls for independent or International Criminal Court investigations into the allegations, both which have been rejected by Israeli authorities.

In order to move forward for implementation, the Goldstone report must first be discussed by the UN General Assembly. The UN Security Council, where the United States, China and Russia all hold a veto, may also request a discussion of the document.

In the interim, as Palestinian rights organizations work to push forward the total adoption of the report by the UN, Israel okayed the creation of a task force charged with developing ways to avoid prosecution, as well as a public relations strategy to quash public dissent.

Israeli envoy to the UN: war crimes investigations may go ahead

"We shouldn't be deluding ourselves that the [Goldstone] report will disappear if we launch a probe," Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told a panel at the Israel Democracy Institute Wednesday.

She said she believed there was a "murky wave against the State of Israel the likes of which has not been seen in many years," behind the international community's increasing demand that the report and its allegations be investigated by an independent body, which Israel has refused to submit to.

"We are doing a poor job of explaining our position," Shalev added. "What we have here is an indictment against Israel, against freedom of expression, against the legal establishment, and against the army."
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