Ministers "will change" war crimes arrest law

Senior ministers and government officials are moving towards changing the law to prevent the arrest of visiting Israelis.

Jeremy Newmark, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive said: "We understand that cross-departmental meetings have recently taken place at ministerial and official level to discuss the best way of delivering a solution."

The issue resurfaced this week after a senior Israeli army commander, Colonel Udi Ben-Moha, pulled out of a move to study in Britain over fears he could be arrested for war crimes.

The government is eager to avoid a return to the major political row which erupted earlier this year after an arrest warrant was issued for Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

It hopes to improve relations with Israel so that Foreign Secretary William Hague can visit, and to ensure Israeli politicians can come to Britain for the party conferences this autumn.

The Foreign Office confirmed this week that Mr Hague stood by comments he made after May's election, when he said it was his intention to "act speedily".

Mr Hague had said the current situation was "unsatisfactory and indefensible" and "must be put right".

James Arbuthnot MP, chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, said: "I would be surprised if it is resolved within the next week because if it requires legislation. But it certainly has not been forgotten."

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor told an international conference of Jewish lawyers in London that a concerted effort was needed to amend the law on universal jurisdiction.

The envoy said that current laws were being abused by political activists as part of a campaign to "demonise and deligitimise" Israel.

He said all that activists had to do was turn up at a magistrates court with an A4 form to apply for an arrest warrant.

Jeremy Newmark said that communal organisations were continuing to raise the matter as a top priority with government officials.

A senior IDF source said: "Israel had received assurances from the previous government and the Conservative Party that the law would be changed.

"Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian activists, including some Israelis, are doing everything to hound our officers."

Last updated: 1:39pm, July 8 2010