Israel Notes War Crimes Challenges

Israel has compiled a list of countries where its political and military leaders — including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — could face legal challenges under war crimes laws.

Israel's Foreign Ministry decided to "map" countries around the world in light of requests from several current and retired security officials who wanted to know whether they might be arrested or prosecuted while traveling abroad, ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said on Thursday.

He did not mention which countries would be considered problematic for Israeli officials. But the ministry said Israel wanted to prevent "the politicization" of the international judicial system.

Sharon Cites 'Threat to Israel and the Jewish People'

Two recent incidents have given the issue prominence in Israel.

In Belgium, a Palestinian filed a complaint against Sharon, accusing him of responsibility in 1982 in the killing of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Sharon was defense minister at the time the killings were carried out by a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Lebanon.

Belgium has a law that allows for the prosecution of war crimes, wherever they occurred.

In Denmark, lawmakers have threatened to file a complaint against Israel's designated ambassador to Denmark, Carmi Gilon. In a recent interview, Gilon said that when he was head of Israel's security service, the Shin Bet, he authorized torture of Arab suspects to prevent imminent attacks. The Israeli Supreme Court has since outlawed the practice.

Israel "acknowledges the need to compile a list of countries whose wide-ranging authority enables them to act against foreign citizens for acts committed in foreign countries," read the statement by the Foreign Ministry.

Sharon told Israel radio there was "an attempt to harm Israel and the Jewish people, and thus there is activity to stop this danger."

The complaint filed against Sharon in Belgium was a preliminary move, and a Belgian judge has yet to decide on whether the case should proceed.

An Israeli government investigation in the 1980s found Sharon indirectly responsible for the killings in Lebanon, forcing him to step down as defense minister.

A Protected Ambassador

In Gilon's case, Danish lawmakers, politicians and human rights activists have called on Israel to withdraw his candidacy, but Israel insists it will not do so. Gilon is to begin his new job in Copenhagen on Aug. 15.

Danish Justice Minister Frank Jensen said Wednesday that Gilon would not be arrested, noting that he would have diplomatic immunity as an ambassador.

Israeli President Moshe Katzav criticized Denmark on Thursday, insisting that Gilon, as chief of the Shin Bet, "acted according to the Israeli government's orders."

"Denmark has never spoken out against Palestinian terrorists," Katzav added.