The British government has granted temporary diplomatic immunity to a prominent Israeli politician in advance of a visit to Britain this week to protect her against arrest and potential prosecution for alleged breaches of international law, including war crimes.
The Foreign Office confirmed "special mission" status - effectively, diplomatic immunity - has been granted to Tzipi Livni, Israel's justice minister and lead negotiator in recent peace talks, who will meet Foreign Office ministers in London.
The move comes amid efforts to secure a warrant for Livni's arrest by London law firm Hickman and Rose, acting on behalf of a relative of a Palestinian killed in the bombing of a police compound on the first day of Israel's military assault on Gaza, which began in December 2008.
Working with the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the law firm requested the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to advise police to arrest Livni for suspected war crimes, and to liaise with the attorney general to approve criminal charges.
Raji Sourani, PCHR director, said he was very disappointed at the government's decision given that a British judge decided in December 2009 that there was sufficient evidence to justify Livni's arrest over the three-week Israeli military assault on Gaza.
"The [government's] policy of 'ending impunity for international crimes' can only be properly pursued if the rule of law and due process is allowed to prevail, rather than Britain giving a safe haven to suspected war criminals," Sourani said.
It is the second time diplomatic immunity has been granted to Livni when visiting Britain. In October 2011 she was granted special mission status after the CPS received an application for an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.
In December 2009 Livni cancelled a visit to London after an arrest warrant was issued by Westminster magistrates court.
The granting of immunity to Livni comes amid growing concern over the government's issuing of special mission status, and the secrecy surrounding such moves.