Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, expressed surprise on Friday when Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told him he feared he would be arrested should he travel to the United Kingdom, according to sources close to Dichter.
Dichter canceled a trip to Britain in December over concerns he would be arrested due to his involvement in the decision to assassinate the head of Hamas' military wing in July 2002.
Sources close to Dichter quoted Blair, who resigned in June from the British premiership, as telling the Israeli minister during a meeting in Jerusalem that he was "shocked" to hear those concerns, and called them "utter nonsense."
The sources also said Blair told Dichter that he was under the impression that the matter had been settled while he was still prime minister.
Dichter's concerns pertain to the 2002 bombing of Salah Shehade's house in Gaza, which killed fifteen people, among them his wife and three children. At the time, Dichter was head of the Shin Bet security service. He is the first minister to have to deal with a possible arrest.
The public security minister planned to visit Britain in December, but the Foreign Ministry wrote him that it did not recommend he do so because of a high probability that an extreme leftist organization there would file a complaint, which might lead to an arrest warrant. The ministry also wrote that because Dichter was not an official guest of the British government, he did not have immunity from arrest.
Dichter's bureau said in response that the minister does not intend to go to Britain on any type of official or unofficial visit until the matter of the arrest warrant is resolved.
Dichter was already charged in a civil suit in the United States in 2005 for his part in the decision to assassinate Shehade. But in the U.S., this is not a cause for arrest.
British law, however, states that a private individual can file a complaint against another person for offenses such as war crimes. According to the law, such a complaint might lead to the court issuing an arrest warrant, or a summons to criminal investigation or clarification of the complaint by the police, or even the opening of criminal proceedings.
Dichter is the first minister to face this problem, which has mainly affected senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces. Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, formerly chief of staff, encountered a similar problem when he traveled to Britain in 2002 before becoming defense minister. Other officers in a similar predicament included former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon and former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog.
In September 2005, Almog flew to London and found that a British police officer was waiting in the terminal with an arrest warrant. Almog remained on the plane and returned to Israel to avoid an embarrassing incident.
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