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February 13, 2003

Israel recalls ambassador from Brussels following Belgian court ruling

And now we learn that it is not the government but merely their Supreme Court that says this and thus Israel is "overreacting."
Israel's Ambassador to Belgium Yehuda Kenar was recalled for consultations with Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in protest over yesterday's ruling by the Belgian Supreme Court that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can be prosecuted in Belgium for alleged war crimes once he no longer has diplomatic immunity. The court ruling, which threatens other Israeli officials with immediate prosecution, exasperated Israeli-Belgian relations.

Some sources in the Foreign Ministry said the decision to recall the ambassador was an over-reaction. "Recalling an ambassador is a very serious step," former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel told Army Radio. "We have to remember that we are talking about a decision from a court, not from the Belgian government."

The Belgian Supreme Court was reviewing a decision made by a lower appeals court last June that said Sharon could not be tried in Belgium for alleged war crimes relating to his involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp massacres in Lebanon because he was not physically present in the country. Yesterday's ruling affirmed Belgium's right, under its 1993 "universal jurisdiction" law, to try war crimes cases, even if the crimes were not committed in Belgium and the accused were not present at the trial.

Based on the ruling, Belgian prosecutors could now open proceedings against other Israelis allegedly involved in the 1982 massacres, including former IDF chief of staff Rafael Eitan, and Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron (IDF commander in Beirut at the time). Israeli officials are reportedly worried that Belgium could use extradition treaties, to which Israel is signed, and issue a pan-European warrant for Yaron's arrest. [more]