Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:05 pm (KSA) 15:05 pm (GMT)

Israel to defend troops amid war crimes charges

Israel is facing a string of war crimes accusations over its Gaza assault (File)
Israel is facing a string of war crimes accusations over its Gaza assault (File)

Israel promised Sunday to protect soldiers who participated in the 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip from prosecution and warned Hamas its leader would not move freely if soldier Gilad Shalit remained captive as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that electing a right-wing government would cause a rift with the United States.

Amid a string of war crimes accusations Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza need to know that they are completely safe from different tribunals and Israel will help and protect them," he said amid a string of accusations of war crimes.

 The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza need to know that they are completely safe from different tribunals and Israel will help and protect them 
Olmert

Olmert confirmed he had appointed Justice Minister Daniel Friedman to chair an inter-ministerial committee "to coordinate Israel's efforts to offer legal defense for anyone who took part in the operation."

"He will formulate questions and answers relating to the army's operations, which self-righteous people ... might use to sue officers and soldiers," the prime minister said.

Israel's military censor has already banned the publication of the identity of the unit leaders for fear they may face war crimes charges.

The move comes after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded that those responsible for bombing U.N. buildings in the Palestinian territory should be held accountable and accused Israel of using excessive force.

Eight Israeli human rights groups have called on the Israeli government to investigate the scale of the casualties, describing the number of dead women and children as "terrifying."

Amnesty International has said it was "undeniable" that Israel had used white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas, contrary to international law, charging that this amounted to a war crime.

Haniya warned over Shalit

Israelis demonstrate for Gilad Shalit

Meanwhile, senior Israeli minister Shaul Mofaz warned Hamas's leader, Ismail Haniya, that he would not be able to move around freely if Gilad Shalit remained captive and warned Hamas not to test Israel.

"As long as Gilad Shalit does not see daylight, Haniya will not see daylight either," said Mofaz, who is transport minister and a member of Israel's powerful security cabinet.

"As long as Gilad Shalit is not free, Haniya will not be able to move freely in the streets of Gaza," Mofaz said on public radio, referring to a conscript seized by Gaza militants in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.

"I tell Hamas leaders -- do not again make a mistake when it comes to us, do not try and harden your position before negotiations on a (prisoner) exchange" involving Shalit, he said.

"The Israeli operation in Gaza has created better conditions to achieve the freeing of Gilad Shalit," he said a week after Israel's 22-day Operation Cast Lead killed more than 1,330 Gazans and thirteen Israelis.

Israel and Hamas have negotiated for months via Egyptian mediators over a Palestinian prisoner release in return for Shalit.

Right-wing govt

 A far-right government led by Netanyahu is likely to provoke conflict with the new administration…even a rift 
Livni

Meanwhile, Livni's private conversations were splashed across Sunday's media, in which the foreign minister warned that a far-right government—led by Benjamin Netanyahu—would cause a rift with the new U.S. administration.

"A far-right government led by Netanyahu is likely to provoke conflict with the new administration…even a rift," public radio and newspapers quoted Livni as saying.

Livni leads the ruling center-right Kadima party for the Feb. 10 elections which pollsters are predicting will result in a coalition of Netanyahu's Likud, the far-right Yisrael Beitenu and conservative Jewish religious parties.

"Israel will have to choose whether it is on the side that promotes the process or rejects it, otherwise there will be an unavoidable rift with the United States," Livni told party officials at the weekend, according to Haaretz newspaper.

Livni is running in the February 10 elections

The comments came ahead of a first visit to the Middle East this week by the new U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell. Livni called the visit "an opportunity for Israel."

She said it was "positive because it follows the political line of the current government which supports the idea of two states for two peoples, so much so that U.S. pressure cannot fall on Israel but rather on Iran and its allies.

"When Netanyahu was in power (1996-1999), relations with the United States reached an all-time low," public radio quoted her as saying.

A Likud party official accused Livni of exploiting her ministerial position during the election campaign.

"She is under pressure, because the polls predict that Kadima will lose. Benjamin Netanyahu is the best placed Israeli leader to handle our relations with Washington and defend Israel's interests," he said.

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