Israeli's Gantz immune from prosecution in Gaza bombing case -Dutch court

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THE HAGUE, Dec 7 (Reuters) - A Dutch appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz was immune from civil prosecution in the Netherlands in a case brought over the deaths of six Palestinians in an Israeli air strike.

The court upheld a lower court's finding of January 2020 that Gantz, as a high-ranking Israeli official carrying out government policy, could not be held liable in a Dutch civil case.

The plaintiff, Ismail Ziada - a Dutch national of Palestinian origin - said he lost his mother, three of his brothers, his sister-in-law and his nephew in the attack, which took place in Gaza in 2014 when Gantz was Israeli armed forces' commander-in-chief.

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In the suit, Ziada sought unspecified damages against Gantz - a career soldier turned politician - under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules.

The appeals court said the case concerned officials -Gantz and his co-defendant, former Air Force commander Amir Eshel - who carried out the policies of the Israeli state.

That meant "a judgment on their actions will necessarily include a judgment on the actions of the state of Israel," over which a Dutch court had no jurisdiction, a summary of the judges' decision stated.

Reacting to the ruling, Gantz said he had been confident that he and Israel had been acting according to international law. "I am very happy that now other people have said the same," Gantz he told Reuters.

The court's ruling did not address whether the bombing contravened international law.

Its judges said universal jurisdiction - which allows countries to prosecute serious offences committed elsewhere - could not be applied in civil damages cases in the Netherlands, even if they concerned alleged war crimes.

Ziada's lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said her client had yet to decide whether to appeal, but suggested prospects of overturning the ruling appeared slim.

"Chances that the Dutch Supreme Court will hold the Israeli military to account are small," she told Reuters by text message.

Israel's Deputy Attorney General Roy Schondorf said the ruling set a legal precedent "that safeguards Israel's military commanders as a whole."

Rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes during a seven-week war in Gaza in 2014.

According to U.N. figures, about 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed in that conflict, including up to 1,500 civilians. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel also died, according to Israeli military and health officials.

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Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich and John Stonestreet

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