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Palestinians seek charges against Israelis in Belgium

Published on 23/06/2010

A group of Palestinians filed a war crimes complaint in a Belgian court Wednesday against 14 top Israeli officials including Defence Minister Ehud Barak, their lawyer said.

The complaint, presented to the Belgian federal prosecutor, seeks charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in January 2009, said attorney Georges-Henri Beauthier.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who headed the government at the time, and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, are also named in the document along with high-ranking military and intelligence officials.

The prosecutor should decide on the merit of the case by the end of August under Belgium’s law of universal jurisdiction, which allows Belgians to file such complaints, Beauthier said.

One of the 14 plaintiffs has Belgian citizenship.

Anouar El Okka, a Belgian doctor of Palestinian origin, claims that his olive grove in Gaza was bombarded and then set of fire with phosphorous by Israeli forces, the attorney said.

The complaint also cites the bombing of the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque, near the refugee camp of Jabaliya, in which 16 civilians including children were killed.

The Belgian lawyers also represent 13 Palestinians who were wounded or lost a relative in the attack, which had been aimed at militants of the Islamist group Hamas.

The 70-page complaint also refers to the conclusions of a UN-commissioned report which accused Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes in Gaza.

It is not the first time such legal action has been taken in Belgium.

In 2001, a complaint was filed against former prime minister Ariel Sharon over massacres at refugee camps two decades earlier, but the case went nowhere.

That legal move caused a diplomatic spat between Israel and Belgium and led Brussels to change its universal jurisdiction law, allowing it to apply only in cases that involved Belgian nationals.

The Israeli assault on Gaza, which was launched in response to Palestinian rocket attacks, left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead over 22 days between December 2008 and January 2009.