Spain court closes Gaza probe into Israeli attack

Spain court closes Gaza probe into Israeli attack

A Spanish court on Tuesday closed a probe targeting Israeli officials for alleged crimes against humanity over a deadly 2002 air raid in Gaza.

The National Audience, the country's top criminal court, followed the recommendations of prosecutors in deciding to close the case.

Public prosecutors in April advised judge Fernando Andreu to close the probe on the grounds that the attack, which killed a suspected leader of the Islamist movement Hamas, Salah Shehadeh, and more than a dozen others, had already been under investigation by Israel.

Israel said it hoped the court's decision "will end the issue".

"Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomes Spain's high court decision to close the investigation against Israeli officials," the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Israel claimed from the onset that the process was a political attempt to abuse the Spanish justice system."

The ruling followed a decision in January by a Spanish judge to pursue a complaint against seven senior Israeli military figures over an air attack on Gaza City on July 22. 2002 which also killed 14 civilians, mainly infants and children.

The complaint, which included former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer as one of its targets, was lodged with the Madrid-based judge Fernando Andreu by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

The judge had decided to set up two rogatory commissions, one of which would notify the Israeli authorities about the opening of the inquiry while another was to have sought witness testimony from Palestinians.

Spain has since 2005 assumed the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism.

This has served as the grounds for investigations by the National Court into alleged human rights abuses in other countries, from Argentina to Tibet.

But it only applies if the alleged crimes are not already subject to a legal procedure in the country involved.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which first brought the complaint before the court, can appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court in an effort to keep the case alive.

"We will continue our attempts, including inside Spain," said the group's director, Raji Sourani. "The point is to find and bring to account war criminals in Spain and in any other place. What we seek as lawyers, human rights activists and representatives of the victims is the rule of law and not the law of the jungle."

Spanish prosecutors asked the judge to suspend the investigation, but in May he announced he would continue. Andreu said he had found no evidence that Israeli prosecutors were conducting a probe of their own, so he had jurisdiction to press ahead.

Last week the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament passed a bill to narrow the scope of Spain's universal jurisdiction law to cases in which the victims of a crime include Spaniards or in which the alleged perpetrators are in Spain. The bill still has to go before the Senate, but passage is expected because both major parties support it.

However, the new law will not be retroactive, so cases like the one against Israel would remain active.

Updated : 2021-04-15 18:22 GMT+08:00