Israel denounced Friday the “cynical exploitation” of Belgium’s judicial system, after Belgian prosecutors confirmed they wanted to question a former Israeli minister over war crimes allegations.
Tzipi Livni, currently a Knesset member with the center-left Zionist Union opposition party, was expected to visit Brussels next week to meet Jewish leaders in the city but “cancelled three or four days before,” a spokesman for the event said.
He said the cancellation was for “personal reasons.”
Local newspaper Le Soir said prosecutors had been hoping to question Livni over allegations of war crimes in the 2008-9 Israeli war in Gaza, when she was foreign minister.
“We wanted to take advantage of her visit to try to advance the investigation,” a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor Thierry Werts said.
Livni’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment from AFP, but the Foreign Ministry reacted strongly.
“We reject this cynical abuse of the Belgian legal system to advance a political agenda,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
He labelled the attempt to question Livni “another cheap publicity stunt with no legal basis that was organised and executed by an anti-Israeli organisation.”
Livni, one of Israel’s most influential women, is named along with other political and military leaders in a complaint filed in June 2010 over alleged crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.
More than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, died during the Israeli-Hamas war between December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009.
Thirteen Israelis, including ten soldiers, were killed.
Israel said the conflict was a justified response to hundreds of rockets fired into the Jewish state by Hamas, the terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007 and is avowedly committed to destroying Israel.
Belgian justice has the right to detain a suspect in its territory on crimes related to international law as one of the victims had Belgian citizenship.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office believes Livni, now a member of parliament and opposition leader, is not protected by immunity.
The Belgian-Palestinian Association supporting the complaint said in a statement it wanted to hold Livni responsible for her role in the war, as well as Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, then prime minister and minister of defence.
In December 2009 Livni cancelled a visit to London after being informed that she was the subject of an arrest warrant issued by a UK court over her role in the same war. British authorities have since amended legislation to make such cases less likely.