Five Belgians living in Israel filed a complaint here Thursday against the Hamas rulers of Gaza, saying militant rocket fire into Israel had violated their human rights.
Belgian courts let citizens living anywhere in the world request criminal prosecutions for violations of their human rights.
In 1993 Belgium began allowing war-crimes cases to be filed by people in any country claiming violations of their basic rights. The universal jurisdiction law triggered a spate of politically charged cases against leaders such as ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former President George W. Bush, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The Belgian law was scaled back in 2003 to cover only rights violations against Belgian nationals.
Lawyer Roel Coveliers said he sent the federal prosecutor's office a complaint about rights violations by the Hamas government from mid-2008 until Jan. 18, when a cease-fire took ended several weeks of intense hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
He said the complaint targets the radical Palestinian group's political and military leadership, but names no individuals.
He did not name his five clients, who he described as civilians living in or near Ashdod, a town on the Mediterranean coast about 10 miles (15 kilometers) north of the Gaza Strip. Two were wounded by Qassam rockets from Gaza, he said.
"This is a case of civilians who are just fed up with being victims of crimes against international humanitarian law," Coveliers said.
Britain and Spain also have laws allowing charges against foreign officials. The UK promised to change its law so judges can no longer issue secret arrest warrants against foreign officials. The move came after Israelis expressed outrage when it emerged this month a London judge had issued an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, on suspicion of involvement in war crimes.
Belgium toned down its 1993 universal jurisdiction law after the United States threatened to pull NATO out of Brussels to prevent American defense and other officials visiting the alliance headquarters from getting arrested on arrival in Belgium.
Belgium's federal prosecutor's office will determine if the complaint against the Hamas leadership Hamas has merit. If so, it will appoint an investigating judge to review it in detail before any prosecution could start.
Israel launched an offensive against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers Dec. 27, 2008, in a bid to halt years of rocket fire at Israeli towns.
The fighting killed 13 Israelis and nearly 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians.
A UN report by an expert panel chaired by South African jurist Richard Goldstone found that both Israel and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the Gaza war.
Israel has denied its soldiers targeted civilians but has said Hamas militants fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli towns.