Spain pledges to alter judges’ war crimes powers

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Spanish government is introducing legislation to keep its judges from prosecuting foreign officials for war crimes.

Foreign minister Miguel Moratinos informed his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, of the plans on Jan. 30, a day after a Spanish judge named seven Israeli officials in an investigation he launched into the 2002 assassination of a top Hamas terrorist, Salah Shehadeh. The bombing killed 14 others, including nine children.

In leaks to Western media since the killing, Israeli officials have insisted that they took every precaution before launching the attack.

Threats of lawsuits or prosecutions against Israeli officials have proliferated since the end of the Gaza Strip war. Hamas launched the war around Dec. 19 with a barrage of rocket attacks on Israel’s South. Israel retaliated with major air operations before sending in ground troops. More than 1,300 Palestinians, reportedly about half of them civilians, died in the war. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

The power of Spanish judges to independently launch war crimes investigations against foreign officials has dogged that country’s foreign policy since 1998, when a warrant issued by another Spanish judge led to the arrest in Britain of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator whose regime had murdered nearly 3,000 of its opponents.

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