BBC World News
December 15, 2009 - 1:00am

Israel has reacted angrily to the issuing by a British court of an arrest warrant for the former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

The warrant, issued by a London court on Saturday, was revoked on Monday when it was found Ms Livni was not visiting the UK.

Ms Livni was in post during Israel's controversial Gaza assault last winter.

It is the first time a UK court has issued a warrant for an Israeli former minister.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have tried several times to have Israeli officials arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

This allows domestic courts in countries around the world to try war crimes suspects, even if the crime took place outside the country and the suspect is not a citizen.

Israel denies claims by human rights groups and the UN investigator Richard Goldstone that its forces committed war crimes during the operation, which it said was aimed at ending Palestinian rocket fire at its southern towns.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has also been accused of committing war crimes during the conflict.

"Israel rejects the cynical act taken in a British court," against Ms Livni, now the head of the opposition Kadima party, "at the initiative of extreme elements," Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

It called on the British government to "act against the exploitation of the British legal system against Israel".

Addressing a conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Ms Livni did not refer specifically to the arrest attempt.

But she said: "Israel must do what is right for Israel, regardless of judgements, statements and arrest warrants. It's the leadership's duty, and I would repeat each and every decision," Israeli media reported.

Israel says it fully complies with international law, which it says it interprets in line with other Western countries such as the US and UK.

On Monday Ms Livni's office denied the reports that a warrant had been issued and that she had cancelled plans to visit the UK because of fears of arrest.

It said a planned trip had been cancelled two weeks earlier because of scheduling problems.

The British foreign office said it was "urgently looking into the implications of the case".

"The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East, and to be a strategic partner of Israel," it said in a statement.

"To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government."

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom also defended Ms Livni, saying Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip had been necessary and that any attack on Ms Livni was an attack on Israel.

"We are all Tzipi Livni," he said.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 people were killed during Israel's Cast Lead operation between 27 December 2008 and 16 January 2009, more than half of them civilians.

Israel puts the number of deaths at 1,166 - fewer than 300 of them civilians. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers were also killed.

The BBC's Tim Franks says that, privately, senior Israeli figures are warning of what they see as an increasing anti-Israeli bent in the British establishment.

In turn, our correspondent adds, there is clearly concern among British officials that should further arrest warrants be issued, relations with Israel could be damaged.

In October, Israeli minister and former military chief Moshe Yaalon cancelled a UK visit because of fears of arrest for alleged war crimes.

Pro-Palestinian groups in Britain want Mr Yaalon to face trial over the 2002 killing of a Gaza militant, in which 14 others also died.

A similar attempt a week earlier failed to get an arrest warrant issued for Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The court said he was accorded diplomatic immunity because of his official role.

In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued for a former head of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, Major General Doron Almog, over the destruction of Palestinian homes.

He received warning before disembarking from an aircraft at Heathrow Airport, and flew back to Israel, avoiding possible arrest.


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