New Zealand cancels arrest warrant for Israeli general

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The Independent Online

The former head of Israel's army continued unimpeded with a trip to New Zealand yesterday after the country's attorney general rescinded a warrant issued for his arrest to face allegations of war crimes.

Moshe Yaalon, who was chief of staff until June last year, said that he was still in New Zealand despite the warrant for his arrest.

The decision by the Auckland district court on Monday last week was overruled on Thursday by the New Zealand attorney general, Michael Cullen.

General Yaalon told Israel's army radio yesterday: "I am continuing to travel in New Zealand. I did not run away from anywhere and I don't intend to run away."

The petition sought General Yaalon's trial for his part in the assassination in Gaza of a leading Hamas figure, Salah Shehadeh, who was killed by a one-ton bomb dropped by the Israeli air force on his house in 2002. The bomb, which fell in a residential area, killed at least 14 civilians, including seven members of the Mattar family. A surviving member, Ra'ed Mattar, was named as one of the complainants.

The legal move was the latest against senior Israeli security personnel made on behalf of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and their London-based firm of solicitors, Hickman Rose, who said Palestinians were "devastated" by the attorney's decision.

Major General Doron Almog, who recently completed an official military investigation into the conduct of the Lebanon war, flew back to Tel Aviv from London without leaving his aircraft in September last year when he was tipped off that he faced arrest because of a similar type of warrant.

General Yaalon said yesterday: "I know there was an intention to file a suit against me. But I am glad New Zealand is one of the countries that implements the law the right way and does not allow people who want to make propaganda to use [the law] to attack people like us."

Judge Avinash Deobhakta, who granted the original application, said it established a prima facie case against General Yaalon.

In New Zealand the attorney general is required to authorise a prosecution but not the issue of an arrest warrant.

Dr Cullen said that to his knowledge no government officials, MPs or ministers had met General Yaalon, and "there has been no contact at any level" between his office and the Israeli government or its embassy in Canberra.