LONDON – London police feared an armed confrontation if they tried to arrest a visiting Israeli army general who was accused in a war crimes complaint filed by a human rights group, British Broadcasting Corp. said Tuesday.
Retired Gen. Doron Almog dodged the arrest in 2005 by staying on his plane at London's Heathrow airport after a tip-off that police were waiting to detain him. The Israeli jetliner flew him straight home, and the warrant was eventually dropped for procedural reasons.
A magistrate's court had issued the arrest order covering an incident in the Gaza Strip under a law that gives Britain the power to charge foreigners with war crimes, even if Britain or its citizens were not involved.
Police feared that entering the aircraft to try to exercise the warrant could lead to an armed faceoff with Almog's security detail or air marshals on the El Al jetliner, the BBC said, citing documents prepared for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a police watchdog.
The commission, which concluded its investigation into the incident last year, declined to comment on the documents, saying only that there was nothing improper about the police's decision not to board the plane.
El Al referred all questions to Israel's internal security service, which secures its planes. The security service did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment. London police also declined comment.
The war crimes allegations stemmed from Almog's role as commander of the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip in 2002, when Israeli forces destroyed 59 houses in the Rafah refugee camp, said the group that filed the war crimes charge, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Israel said at the time that the razed buildings were empty and had been used by militants to shoot at Israeli soldiers. The rights group charged that the destruction was a war crime, alleging it wasn't justified by military necessity and wasn't carried out lawfully.
Visiting senior foreign officials, including heads of state, are typically protected from arrest or prosecution. Almog, in Britain to raise money for an Israeli center for brain-damaged children, did not have such immunity because he was retired.
The attempt to arrest Almog still worries Israeli officials.
In December, Israeli public security minister Avi Dichter turned down an invitation to visit Britain out of concern that he could be arrested for his role in the 2002 assassination of a senior Hamas militant in Gaza, spokesman Mati Gill said.