By Ron Bousso (AFP) – Dec 23, 2009
JERUSALEM — A group of Israelis wounded in Palestinian rocket attacks during this year's Gaza war have asked a Belgian court to issue war crimes arrest warrants against Hamas leaders, they said on Thursday.
The lawsuit, which the plaintiffs say is unprecedented, follows a slew of requests filed by pro-Palestinian groups across Europe for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders over their role in the devastating Gaza offensive.
The latest move was led by a European pro-Israeli lobby representing 15 victims of rocket attacks on southern Israel, who were wounded, whose homes were damaged and in one case who lost a relative.
The Israelis, who also hold Belgian nationality, filed the complaint in Brussels, where a judicial probe would be held and arrest warrants issued if deemed necessary, their attorney, Roel Coveliers, said.
"The request for arrest warrants was submitted after six months of legal preparation and is based on strict evidence which ties Hamas leaders to terror attacks in which Belgium citizens ware harmed," Coveliers told AFP.
The complaint accuses 10 top Hamas military and political leaders of war crimes, citing reports by international human rights organisations and a UN fact-finding mission which Israel boycotted.
Named after former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the inquiry committee, the UN report accuses both Israel and Hamas militants of war crimes during the 22-day conflict that ended in January and killed about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
"The Goldstone report says, among other things, that the rocket attacks by Hamas constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, so as a member of the United Nations, I don't believe Belgium will ignore the complaint," Coveliers said.
The Hamas leaders targeted by the lawsuit include the group's Damascus-based political supremo Khaled Meshaal, top Gaza leaders Ismail Haniya and Mahmud Zahar and the heads of its armed wing Ahmed Jaabari and Mohammed Def.
Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit in Belgium would be followed by similar requests in other European countries. The plaintiffs have asked that their names not be published.
"This is a first step in a broad offensive across Europe that will include Spain, Britain, Italy and other countries," he said.
Uri Yablonka, the head of pro-Israeli lobby The European Initiative, said the goal of the complaint was to "raise European awareness that Hamas is a terror organisation."
"We want to shatter the myth that draws a parallel between Israel and terror organisation such as Hamas," he told AFP.
Earlier this month, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the Gaza conflict, cancelled a trip to London after an arrest warrant was issued against her by a British court, sparking a diplomatic row.
Similar arrest warrants against Israeli leaders have been issued in Spain and Belgium.
The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip appointed in the wake of the war a committee to provide information to European lawyers investigating alleged war crimes by Israel in the Gaza war.
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