Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 13:28 pm (KSA) 10:28 am (GMT)

British PM says Israel’s Livni “always welcome”

International human rights bodie have said Israeli officials should answer war crimes allegations (File)
International human rights bodie have said Israeli officials should answer war crimes allegations (File)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday that she would "always be welcome" in Britain, after a warrant was issued here for her arrest, his office said.

In a telephone call from Copenhagen where he is attending the U.N. climate change summit, Brown told the former foreign minister he was "disappointed" that she had been unable to visit Britain, a Downing Street spokesman said.

Reports said Kadima party leader Livni cancelled the planned trip here at the weekend for fear of being arrested, although her office said the trip was only postponed due to scheduling problems.

The warrant was understood to have been issued by a London court at the weekend following an application by Palestinian activists because of Livni's role in Israel's war against Hamas-run Gaza at the turn of the year.

Changing the law

 Israeli leaders, like leaders from other countries, must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British government 
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Israel has demanded Britain change its law and said the legal jeopardy faced by Israeli politicians and military officers could damage Britain's efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement he rejected "this absurdity", which was ultimately aimed at impairing Israel's ability to defend itself.

Netanyahu's national security adviser and the Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to convey their dismay.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has also expressed concern over the warrant, and said the government was looking "urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again".

"Israeli leaders, like leaders from other countries, must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British government," he said in a statement.

"The government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again

Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis reiterated this Wednesday, saying Britain was "absolutely determined to make sure that this can never happen again".

"Because Israel is a strategic partner and close friend of the UK, it is absolutely essential representatives of the state of Israel can visit Britain freely to talk about the Middle East peace process," he told the BBC.

Bringing war criminals to justice

 We should be proud of the fact that we can bring war criminals to justice in this country and we should defend that right 
Sarah Colborne

However, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign group insisted the law should stay as it is. Director of campaigns and operations Sarah Colborne told AFP she was "shocked and appalled" at any suggestion of it being changed.

"We should be proud of the fact that we can bring war criminals to justice in this country and we should defend that right," she said.

Livni herself, whose low domestic profile has been given a boost by the controversy, brushed off the arrest warrant in a speech in Tel Aviv in which she defended her actions in Gaza.

Israel had to do the right thing -- condemnation or no condemnation, statements or no statements, arrest warrants or no arrest warrants. This is the role of a leadership," she said.

International human rights bodies, including a commission set up by the United Nations, have said Israeli political and military officials should answer allegations of war crimes over the three-week offensive launched on Dec. 27.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, while the toll on the Israel side was 13. Israel said it acted according to high military and moral standards during the war.

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