(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Spanish prosecutors have asked a Madrid judge to suspend an investigation of seven Israeli officials over a bombing in Gaza that killed a senior Hamas terrorist and 14 others.
In a writ issued Thursday, prosecutors at the National Court asked Judge Fernando Andreu to hold off because they said Israel is investigating the attack.
Andreu said in January that one reason he agreed to open the investigation was that Israel had neither responded to a request for information about the bombing nor started legal proceedings against the seven officials.
The probe angered Israeli officials. Following consultations, Israel said Spain had agreed to trim the authority of its courts in cases of so-called universal jurisdiction.
A month ago, after having reviewed documents forwarded by the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, Andreu decided to carry on with his investigation of the Israeli officials for suspected crimes against humanity, Spanish judicial sources said.
The alleged offenses relate to the targeted killing of Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh in Gaza City on July 22, 2002.
Palestinian officials said 15 people were killed in the raid - Shehadeh, 49, the commander of the head of Hamas's Izzadin Kassam 'military wing' in Gaza, his wife, a daughter, and his right-hand man, Zaher Nasser, 35, as well as nine children.
The judge reportedly reached his decision after determining that the Israeli documents showed the state had not launched any probe into the incident.
That decision was critical for determining jurisdiction in a case where the concept of 'universal jurisdiction' could be applied.
Universal jurisdiction allows Spain and other European countries to prosecute foreigners for war crimes if a court is satisfied that the suspects will not be tried for their acts in their home country.
Andreu is probing the actions taken by Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was defense minister at the time; Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who was chief of General Staff; Dan Halutz, then-OC Air Force; then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland; the defense minister's bureau chief, Brig.-Gen. Mike Herzog, who was a senior Defense Ministry official in 2002; Kadima MK Avi Dichter, who was head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res) Doron Almog.
Should Andreu choose to issue an international arrest warrant for any of the seven, they could be arrested upon arrival in any EU member state.
The Spanish government has been considering a proposal to amend the controversial war crimes law that now allows the court to investigate the Israelis.
Rebecca Anna Stoil, Etgar Lefkovits and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.