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War crimes suit filed against Barak, Livni in Belgium

June 23, 2010 8:29 P.M. (Updated: June 25, 2010 8:59 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - Two Belgian lawyers working on behalf of Palestinian filed suit against 14 Israeli leaders on allegations of war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, news agencies reported.

The respondents include Israeli opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni for her role as foreign minister during the Gaza offensive between December 2008 and January 2009, former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and other Israeli army officials and Israel's intelligence services, Israeli news site Yedioth Ahronoth wrote.

Much of the 70-page complaint is based on the Goldstone report, Agence France-Presse reported. Claimants include a Palestinian-Belgian national and 13 Gaza Strip residents.

The claim includes an attack on a mosque near the Jabaliya refugee camp during which 16 civilians, including children, were killed. The plaintiffs were either wounded or lost a relative in the attack, the news site wrote.

Lawyers reported estimated that Belgium's attorney general will evaluate the case to determine whether it provides just cause to open a case against the senior Israeli officials "already by the end of August."

Georges-Henri Beauthier and Alexis Deswaef, the two lawyers representing the claimants, said the current charges would be brought against the Israeli leaders using the principle of universal jurisdiction, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The claims follow the filing suit by French activists against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the Israeli army's conduct during its raid of the Freedom Flotilla which saw nine passengers killed by Israeli commandos in international waters on 31 May. The move forced Barak to cancel a Paris visit.

An arrest warrant was issued against Livni in the UK in December 2009 after British lawyers filed suit against the official on behalf of Palestinian respondents for her role in Operation Cast Lead.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized the UN and other international institutions for condemning Israel's acts on Wednesday, as he addressed the Knesset.

"They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime," Haaretz quoted him as saying.

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