Israeli officials on Sunday responded harshly to remarks British ambassador to the UN John Sawers made about the Goldstone Commission's report on Operation Cast Lead, saying that London could become a target of legal action if it decided to back the report.
"London, which is also in the midst of a war against terror, could find itself in handcuffs if it supports the document," officials told Army Radio.
After convening a meeting to instruct senior diplomats to refrain from issuing separate statements to the media following the diplomat's interview, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem expressed hope that the remarks reflected his personal opinion only and not London's official stance on the issue.
The radio station quoted sources in Jerusalem as saying they believed a consensus that the Goldstone report is not a valid legal document was beginning to crystallize.
In an interview earlier Sunday, Sawers told Army Radio that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must examine the findings of the report. The report entails "serious information," that raises suspicions that violations took place during the operation, Sawers said. The tactics used by both sides returned to them "like a boomerang," he added.
Sawers said that he was surprised that the PA had asked to defer until March the UN Human Rights Council-planned endorsement of the report. He also expressed dismay in the fact that both sides failed to cooperate with the commission, adding that the report represented this lack of cooperation.
The ambassador asserted that the judicial authority in Israel, like in his home country, is entirely independent, adding that Britain cannot prevent private persons from filing complaints against Israelis. However, he said, Britain is obviously interested in maintaining normal relations with Israeli politicians and military officials that visit the country, insisting that the state would not by any means prevent them from visiting.
In late September, a British court rejected a petition urging an arrest warrant for Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the grounds that he committed "war crimes" during Operation Cast Lead.
The court accepted arguments submitted by the British Foreign Office, which said the defense minister was a state guest, and therefore was not subject to such lawsuits. Barak was in Britain for talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
"We do not intend to let terror win," Barak said in a statement issued by his office. "We will not apologize in any way for our just struggle against terrorism. We will do everything possible so that the representatives of Israel, security officials and soldiers of the IDF will continue to freely travel the world. The theater of the absurd whereby those who defend their citizens need to be on the defensive has to end. Otherwise, the world is likely not only to give a prize to terrorism, but to encourage it."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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