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Spanish judge probes Israel's attack on Hamas


Associated Press  /  January 29, 2009

MADRID, Spain (AP) -- A Spanish judge on Thursday began an investigation into seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a Hamas militant and 14 other people, including nine children.

Judge Fernando Andreu said he sees a possible crime against humanity in Israel's attack targeting Salah Shehadeh with a one-ton bomb dropped from an F-16 warplane in densely populated Gaza City.

The judge is acting under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain of crimes against humanity or crimes like terrorism or genocide, even if they are alleged to have been committed in another country.

Spanish magistrates have used the doctrine to go after a number of current or former government leaders and terror suspects, even indicting Osama bin Laden over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. But convictions or extraditions have been rare.

The latest suit was brought by a group of Palestinians.

The people named in it include Dan Halutz, who the suit says commanded Israel's air force at the time; and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, then defense minister and now the minister of infrastructure.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government.

The Israeli military began carrying out targeted killings of Palestinian militants after the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the subsequent outbreak of violence in 2000, saying the tactic was the most effective way to stop Palestinian bombers targeting Israeli population centers.

Shehadeh was a top Hamas operative wanted for masterminding suicide bombings. Also killed in the July 2002 bombing were his bodyguard and 13 bystanders, including nine children.

The Shehadeh killing led some international human rights groups to call for criminal charges against Israeli officers, including Halutz, who is no longer in the Israeli military.

Judge Andreu said one of the reasons he has agreed to open an investigation is that Israel has not responded to his request for information about the bombing, nor started legal proceedings itself against the seven.

"In effect, we are faced with an attack on the civilian population," he wrote.

Andreu called the bombing "clearly disproportionate and excessive" and said that if his probe determines the goal from the outset was to target innocent civilians in addition to Shehadeh, he might consider bringing "even more serious" charges.

The judge asked Israel to make the seven former or current officials available for questioning.

Besides Halutz and Ben-Elieser, the other five were identified as Doron Almog, who at the time was a senior air force commander; Giora Eiland, a national security chief; Michael Herzog, with the defense ministry; Moshe Ya'alon, then chief of staff of the Israeli military; and Abraham Dichter, then director of the General Security Service.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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