- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

JERUSALEM — Israel has demanded a change in British law after a senior Israeli army officer canceled a trip to Britain, fearing he would be charged with war crimes.

Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who headed army units in the Gaza Strip until Israel ended its occupation of the territory in August, had been scheduled to spend the summer at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London.

But he shelved the trip, following legal advice that he risked being served with an arrest warrant.

The affair prompted an angry response from Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who told the Israeli press that Gen. Kochavi had “the full support of Israel.”

Mr. Mofaz also called on “countries that suffer from terrorism at home” not to take legal action against “soldiers and officers who acted legally against vicious and atrocious terror.”

Gen. Kochavi, who was the last Israeli soldier to leave the Gaza Strip and officially closed the gate to settlements there behind him, could face arrest in Britain under a private war-crimes prosecution.

The Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 makes it an offense under British law for anyone of any nationality to commit a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, no matter where the incident takes place.

Last September, another senior Israeli army officer was forced to stay on his plane at Heathrow Airport when he heard he would be arrested after passing through passport control. Maj. Gen. Doron Almog flew back to Tel Aviv after the Israeli ambassador in London told him en route that a campaign group had filed charges against him over the destruction of Palestinian homes.

Other Israeli army officers, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former air force chief Gen. Dan Halutz, also have faced the prospect of war-crimes charges filed against them in Europe.

The case against Gen. Halutz relates to the assassination of Hamas leader Saleh Shehada in July 2002, when an Israeli warplane dropped a 1-ton bomb on the apartment building where Mr. Shehada was staying, killing him and 14 bystanders.

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