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Doron Almog, former head of the Israel Defense Forces' Southern Command, escaped arrest yesterday by Britain's anti-terrorist and war crimes unit, when he remained on an aircraft that had landed in Heathrow airport and returned with it to Israel several hours later.

Almog had arrived in London on an El-Al flight. Israel Ambassador Zvi Heifetz learned of a plan to arrest him for allegedly perpetrating war crimes during the intifada, and quickly informed Yaki Dayan, head of the political department in Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's bureau.

In Jerusalem no one knew whether Almog was to be handed a subpoena or an arrest warrant, or who was behind the move, but they decided not to take a chance. The Foreign Ministry sent a message to Almog, through the airplane's communication systems, warning him that he could be arrested if he entered the U.K.

Almog decided to remain on the plane. Because he had not passed border control, he was not considered to have entered Great Britain and therefore could not be handed an arrest warrant. He had been planning to raise funds in the country for a children's village for severely disabled children that he plans to build in the Negev.

The request for Almog's arrest was issued by Judge Timothy Workman in London, at the request of the firm of Hickman and Rose, which specializes in human rights law. Almog was apparently suspected by the London authorities of gravely violating the Geneva Convention, a criminal violation according to British law.

The warrant was issued based on one incident - demolition of a home in Rafah - but the attorneys also seek to investigate allegations concerning Almog's involvement in three other cases: the killing of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy (Nouha al-Maqadam, March 3, 2003); the killing of three young men in northern Gaza on December 30, 2001; and the bombing of the Daraj neighborhood in Gaza on July 22, 2002, which killed Hamas' military head Salah Shehadeh and 14 other Palestinians.

Last month Hickman and Rose learned of Almog's planned visit to Britain, and it submitted to Judge Workman information about the Israeli's alleged involvement in various crimes. As representatives of the families of the victims, Hickman and Rose decided to arrange for Almog to be arrested. The firm worked closely over the past months with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, which documents IDF operations there.

One of the partners in the firm is Daniel Machover, who has dual British and Israeli citizenship. Machover told Haaretz yesterday that his clients and his firm "were deeply sorry that Almog slipped away from the British justice system, but the fact that he feels that he cannot stand up to it, is at least significant in showing that there is no immunity for war criminals in Britain."

Three years ago Israel spirited Shaul Mofaz out of the country to evade an arrest warrant for war crimes, which was issued at the instigation of a Muslim organization.