LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s top prosecutor on Thursday blocked an attempt to seek the arrest of visiting Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes, officials said.
Livni, a former foreign minister, is the first senior Israeli figure to visit Britain since the government changed a war crimes law which had kept her and some other Israeli officials away for fear of arrest.
Her centrist Kadima party said she was in Britain at the invitation of Foreign Secretary William Hague.
An unidentified person applied to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, Tuesday for permission to apply to a court for an arrest warrant against Livni for alleged war crimes linked to Israel’s offensive against Gaza in 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.
It said prosecutors had not reached a decision, but the government certified that Livni was on a “special mission,” which courts have ruled provides immunity from prosecution, and the application had therefore been turned down.
The legal bid was the first test of a new British law that took effect last month limiting citizens’ rights to seek the arrest of foreign politicians for alleged war crimes.
The old law allowed prosecutions in Britain for alleged war crimes committed anywhere in the world.
Previously private individuals could start criminal prosecutions in such cases by applying to a magistrate for an arrest warrant. The new law requires the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before a warrant can be issued.
In a statement issued after talks with Livni, Hague said it was “an appalling situation when political abuse of our legal procedures prevented people like Mrs Livni from traveling legitimately to the UK.”
The Foreign Office said Livni thanked Hague for the change in the law that had clouded Israeli-British relations.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called for a protest in London later Thursday, saying the British government “must arrest war criminals, not invite them to London.”
Israel urged Britain to change its law in 2009 after reports Livni would have risked arrest on war crimes charges stemming from Israel’s Gaza offensive if she had not canceled a visit.
She was foreign minister during Israel’s three-week assault on the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip launched in December 2008.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Alistair Lyon