Israel army to seek legal advice during operations

AP News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2010 2:43 AM

Israel's military will consult more closely with its legal advisers on future offensives, security officials said Wednesday _ a move motivated by war crimes accusations that followed last year's war in the Gaza Strip.

Officers are also receiving more intensive training in the rules of war and international law, the officials said.

Officials said military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has ordered the military to consult with its legal advisers in the course of operations, and not just in the planning stage, as was the case with the Gaza war. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the policy revision with the media.

The Israeli military spokesman's office had no immediate comment.

The new policy follows a U.N. panel's conclusion that Israel committed war crimes in connection with the Gaza operation. Both military and political officials have been forced to cancel trips to Britain because of efforts by Palestinian activists to bring them to trial under a war crimes law that breaks down jurisdictional barriers.

Israel embarked upon the Gaza offensive to stop militants from launching rockets into southern Israel. But the operation drew widespread international criticism over the high Palestinian civilian death toll: Gaza officials and Palestinian human rights groups say more than 900 civilians were killed, out of an overall toll of more than 1,400.

Thirteen Israelis also were killed.

Visiting British Attorney General Patricia Janet Scotland said in a speech at Jerusalem's Hebrew University on Tuesday that her government was "looking urgently at ways in which the U.K. system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again and is determined that Israel's leaders should always be able to travel freely to the U.K."

In other news, Israeli defense officials say Barak has received dozens of anonymous death threats since the government decided in November to slow construction in Jewish West Bank settlements.

The slowdown has enraged settlers who fear it will be a first step toward dismantling some settlements as part of a still-elusive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Security officials said the internal security service, or Shin Bet, was investigating the threats and that Barak's security detail had been reinforced in recent weeks.

Such threats are taken seriously in Israel after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist opposed to his peace moves with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the slowdown in late November under pressure from Washington, which hopes to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But the Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table, saying they want Netanyahu to freeze all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and take up negotiations where they broke off under his predecessor.