U.K. court defers Palestinian bid to arrest Ehud Barak
Britain-based group made request regarding alleged IDF war crimes in Gaza after defense minister landed in U.K.
A United Kingdom court on Tuesday deferred until further notice an appeal by local pro-Palestinian groups to issue an arrest warrant against visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
It is not yet clear whether the issue will be raised for deliberation while Israel's top defense official is still in Britain.
According to sources close to Barak, the British Foreign Ministry recommended to the London court that it treat the current appeal in the same manner it did when a similar appeal was issued in 2004 against Israel's then defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.
At the time, Mofaz was granted immunity from international arrest and trial - a precedent set by the British court, which until then had given such protection only to foreign ministers or premiers.
Barak's associates said it was too soon to tell whether the court would accept the British Foreign Ministry's request for immunity. Meanwhile, Israel has set out on a diplomatic mission to protect the defense minister before the court can reach its decision.
A group of Palestinians in Britain sought earlier Tuesday to obtain the warrant for Barak as he visited the United Kingdom for talks with senior officials.
The Palestinian group made the request at the Westminster Magistrates Court, the British paper The Daily Telegraph reported, regarding alleged war crimes perpetrated by Israel during its winter offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Barak's bureau relayed in response to the move that the defense minister did not intend to change his plans.
"No arrest warrant has been issued, and in any event, he has immunity due to his being a minister in the government," the bureau said in a statement. "Therefore, his program will continue without disturbance."
Barak was due to speak at Britain's Labour party's annual conference on Tuesday, at a fringe event for the Labour Friends of Israel lobby. He was also set to meet with Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and foreign secretary, David Miliband, during the trip.
The appeal to arrest the defense minister comes as Richard Goldstone, the author of a United Nations report on Israel's Gaza offensive, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday that the lack of accountability for war crimes committed in the Middle East is undermining any hope for peace in the region.
In June, Spain's National Court decided to shelve an investigation launched by one of its judges into a July 2002 air strike by the Israel Defense Forces on a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip.
The suspects named by Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu at the time included former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and six current or former IDF officers or security officials.