Livni welcome in UK - Brown

2009-12-16 19:28

London - Prime Minister Gordon Brown told former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday that she would "always be welcome" in Britain, after a warrant was issued here for her arrest, his office said.

In a telephone call from Copenhagen where he is attending the UN climate change summit, Brown told the former foreign minister he was "disappointed" that she had been unable to visit Britain, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Reports said Kadima party leader Livni cancelled the planned trip here at the weekend for fear of being arrested, although her office said the trip was only postponed due to scheduling problems.

The warrant was understood to have been issued by a London court at the weekend following an application by Palestinian activists because of Livni's role in Israel's war against Hamas-run Gaza at the turn of the year.

Israel slammed the legal action as a "cynical" move and summoned the British ambassador to hear a protest.

Strategic partner

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has also expressed concern over the warrant, and said the government was looking "urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again".

Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis reiterated this on Wednesday, saying Britain was "absolutely determined to make sure that this can never happen again".

"Because Israel is a strategic partner and close friend of the UK, it is absolutely essential representatives of the state of Israel can visit Britain freely to talk about the Middle East peace process," he told the BBC.

However, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign group insisted the law should stay as it is. Director of campaigns and operations Sarah Colborne said she was "shocked and appalled" at any suggestion of it being changed.

"We should be proud of the fact that we can bring war criminals to justice in this country and we should defend that right," she said.

Livni's office said on Wednesday that Brown too had told her he opposes the arrest warrant and was determined to seek changes to the legislation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu's office said the premier viewed the incident "with utmost gravity".