Spain Court Drops 'War Crimes' Probe of 2002 IDF Strike in Gaza

Lieberman, Livni welcome move; seven senior Israeli officials were named as suspects in bombing.

Spain's National Court on Tuesday 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, judicial sources said.

Leading Hamas militant Saleh Shehadeh was killed when the Israel Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb on his apartment building in Gaza. The explosion destroyed the building and killed 14 other people, most of them women and children. Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu had argued that it could constitute a crime against humanity.

The suspects named by Andreu included former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and six current or former IDF officers or security officials.

The case had created some diplomatic tension between Spain and Israel.

The court decision followed a preliminary approval by parliament of legislation limiting the right of Spanish judges to investigate alleged human rights violations abroad.

Later Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the decision.

"We view positively every development that deals successfully with such an attempt, and hope that this will be the end of the matter," he said.

The foreign minister added that Israel has argued from the beginning that the probe was a political bid to exploit Spain's judicial establishment.

Lieberman's predecessor, Tzipi Livni, also praised the move.

"The message that Spain sent out today was the right message," said Livni, chairwoman of the Kadima party. "The decision of the Spanish judicial establishment to prevent its exploitation constitutes an example of a joint interest between Spain and Israel."

Last month, Spanish lawmakers almost unanimously passed a resolution which could end the right of Spanish judges to investigate serious crimes like genocide anywhere in the world in cases where courts in the affected country do not act.

Spain's Socialist government said earlier this year it would change the law after protests from Israel over the High Court's decision in January to launch a war crimes probe into the seven Israeli officials.

If translated into a law, the resolution would restrict Spain, which had been praised by international campaigners, to only investigating cases in which the accused is in Spain or Spaniards are victims.