- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ISRAEL

Officials cancel Britain trip

JERUSALEM | A group of Israeli military officers called off an official visit to Britain last week, fearing they could face arrest on war crimes charges, officials said Tuesday.

The four unidentified officers, holding ranks from major to colonel, are the latest in a string of Israeli politicians and military officials forced to call off travel to Britain over fears of legal prosecution relating to last year’s offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Britain is one of the European pioneers of universal jurisdiction, a broad legal concept that empowers judges to issue arrest warrants for nearly any visitor accused of committing war crimes anywhere in the world.

Pro-Palestinian activists have sought to use this concept to press charges against Israelis involved in military operations in Palestinian territories, particularly since last year’s Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. British officials have vowed to change the law.

The announcement of the cancellation came as Britain’s attorney general, Patricia Janet Scotland, was in Israel on a private visit.

Last month, pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a London judge to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli politician Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the war in Gaza last year. The warrant was withdrawn after Mrs. Livni canceled her trip, but the matter strained relations between Britain and Israel.

WEST BANK

Israel approves Jerusalem buildings

JERUSALEM | Israel has approved construction of four new apartment buildings in disputed East Jerusalem, officials said Tuesday, fueling tensions with the Palestinians at a time when the U.S. is laboring to get peace talks moving again.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for a future capital and demand all construction there stop before negotiations resume. The 24-unit project is being developed in an Arab neighborhood by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jew who has generously funded Jewish settlers determined to cement Israel’s hold on contested areas of the holy city.

Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, confirmed that Jerusalem’s local planning committee approved the project Monday, clearing the way for construction to begin.

EGYPT

Saudis end role in Palestinian talks

SHARM EL SHEIK | Saudi Arabia briefed Egypt Tuesday on talks it held with the leader of Hamas on any reconciliation with rival Palestinian group Fatah, but indicated it was unlikely to host further such discussions.

After brokering an agreement between the groups in 2007 and hosting Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Sunday, analysts said they expected Saudi Arabia to play a central role in the process to hold Palestinian elections and forge a unified government.

Mr. Mashaal said after Sunday’s talks he was in the final stages of reconciling with Fatah, which controls the West Bank and is led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The reconciliation file is totally in the hands of the Egyptian brothers,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said during a press conference he gave Tuesday from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

IRAQ

Police seize smuggled artifacts

BAGHDAD | Iraqi police on Tuesday seized a small cache of ancient statues and other artifacts in the south of the country that officials said were set to be smuggled abroad and sold.

Iraq, home to relics of the world’s most ancient urban civilizations, has had its priceless heritage plundered and sold to collectors abroad in the chaotic years since the U.S.-led invasion.

The 39 artifacts were discovered stashed in a hole near a shrine outside the southern city of Nasiriyah, police said. They included statues and shards with writing on them dating back to the ancient Sumerian civilization, which is at least 4,000 years old.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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