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(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
The United Kingdom has given Israel until Tuesday to decide whether to put an IDF officer on trial for murder or else face extraditing him to stand trial in the UK, but Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz said Sunday he would not be bound by the British timetable.
On Sunday, the daily Haaretz reported that UK Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith has informed the family of James Miller, a British photographer who was shot and killed near Rafah on May 2, 2003, that it had written to Mazuz on June 26 and given him six weeks to decide whether to put the soldier on trial for Miller's alleged murder. The soldier has been identified as a Beduin officer, Lt. Haib, Otherwise, warned Goldsmith, he would demand that Haib be extradited to the UK to stand trial there.
Attorney Michael Sfard, who, together with attorney Avigdor Feldman, represents the Miller family in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that if Israel refuses to try Haib or extradite him, it could create a severe crisis between the two countries. Israel and the UK have signed an extradition treaty.
Miller, who was married with two children, was photographing for a feature on the lives of Palestinian children. According to eyewitnesses, he was waving a white flag and wore a vest with the word "journalist" on it when he was shot.
An autopsy indicated that Miller had been killed by a bullet to the neck that came from a rifle fired by someone facing him. Miller was facing the Israeli troops.
The IDF refused to put Haib on trial. Instead, it conducted a disciplinary hearing on charges that he had illegally used his gun. On April 21, 2005, the head of the disciplinary committee, Brig.-Gen. Guy Tsur, acquitted him of the charge.
Meanwhile, the case was brought before the St. Pancras Coroner's Court in London. On April 8, 2006, a 10-member jury ruled that Miller's death was an "unlawful killing" and an "intentional act of murder." In the wake of the decision, Goldsmith met with Israeli officials, including then-justice minister Haim Ramon and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an attempt to resolve the dispute. According to Sfard, the sides discussed the possibility of compensating Miller's widow and children. However, nothing came of the idea.
Goldsmith then wrote to Mazuz, demanding that he order the army to conduct a criminal investigation into the killing. After looking into the matter, Mazuz replied that Haib could not be prosecuted because an audiotape of the incident indicated that six shots had been fired and it was not clear who had shot the bullet that killed Miller.
Goldsmith rejected Mazuz's argument. He had the tape examined by Scotland Yard, which found that the second bullet, which was fired by Haib, had killed Miller. On June 26, he sent a second letter to Mazuz with the ultimatum.
In a statement issued Sunday, Mazuz replied that "the matter had been thoroughly studied and a reply sent to the UK. Now that the British authorities have decided to ask us again, we will look into the matter in coordination with the relevant authorities. The British request will be answered as always, speedily and according to the timetable of the Israeli authorities."
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