'Spain won't annul judge's decision'

Deputy Spanish PM says courts independent, judge can probe Israeli officials for alleged war crimes.

Yaalon 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yaalon 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Spanish government is not intending to work to annul a decision by a Spanish court to prosecute seven Israeli officials for alleged war crimes committed during the targeted assassination of Salah Shehadeh in 2002. 14 other people were killed along with Shehadeh. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega was quoted by Army Radio as saying that "Spain is a country ruled by law and the justice system [here] enjoys absolute independence. This was made clear to Israel and we are sure they understand this." De la Vega's words contradicted those of her country's Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, who told Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni over a phone conversation Friday that his government would amend the authority of the Spanish courts to prevent such probes from being launched in the future. Livni told Moratinos that this was "very important news for the Israeli public." Moratinos stressed that any amendments would not be made in time for the Shehadeh case, but said that his office would work to annul the investigation, Army Radio reported on Friday afternoon. Earlier Friday, the Justice Ministry sent key documents to Spanish authorities on the assassination in an attempt to bring about an annulment of the investigation. On Thursday a Spanish judge decided to launch a probe against National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was defense minister at the time; Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Ya'alon, who was chief of General Staff; Dan Halutz, then commander of the air force; Doron Almog, who was OC Southern Command; then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland; the defense minister's military secretary, Mike Herzog; and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who was head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Ya'alon said Friday that threat of legal action didn't concern him. "It's all propaganda, and it's being led by Arab groups with the help of Israelis who are giving them information," he told Army Radio. "I'm not worried that they might charge me." "The aim is to make out that we are war criminals, in order to delegitimize Israel and hurt its good name," claimed Ya'alon. "We conducted an inquiry and found that the home where most of the victims were was meant to be undergoing renovation. Two days earlier, we had a chance to hit Shehadeh, but since innocent civilians were in the area, we didn't approve the attack." "Even the High Court has turned down a similar petition, and in the US, it was rejected out of hand," he continued. On Thursday, the Justice Ministry rejected allegations that it had failed to take seriously a request from Spanish authorities to turn over the key case documents. The ministry issued a statement saying that "the Spanish authorities asked to receive materials in the course of January, and because of the large quantity of the material in question, the preparation of the documents has continued until now." Herb Keinon and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.