Israeli officials should not fear arrest over alleged war crimes when they travel to Britain on official business, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday.
Hague sought to reassure Israeli leaders after they suspended an annual strategic meeting in Britain last month due to fears they could be arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Pro-Palestinian lawyers in Britain have sought the arrest of Israeli officials under the principle, which allows courts to prosecute alleged war crimes from elsewhere in the world.
No cases have gone ahead, but Israeli officials have canceled trips due to arrest fears. The issue has caused tension between the two countries.
Hague said officials traveling to Britain will not face arrest.
"We are quite clear that there is no problem in any official traveling to London," Hague told Israeli channel 10 TV.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said Hague's comments did not reflect a change in British law regarding universal jurisdiction, but sought to clarify that officials on state business are immune to arrest.
Speaking on condition of anonymity under departmental protocol, he said the government intends to amend the law so interest groups cannot misuse it in ways that damage Britain's foreign relations.
"We are acting to correct it and everyone should well know by now," Hague said. "We will do that, but we will do it in our own way, to our own timetable."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after meeting Hague that he welcomes the "explicit commitment by the British government to amend the law regarding universal jurisdiction."
The annual strategic dialogue meeting will be rescheduled in Israel soon, the statement said. It did not give a date.
Pro-Palestinian activists have used universal jurisdiction to pursue past and current Israeli officials linked to military operations that have killed civilians.
Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor canceled a trip to London this week, fearing arrest, and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to Britain earlier this year.
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