The leading candidate to head Canada's opposition Liberal Party was defiant on Friday after opening a political can of worms with the charge that Israel committed war crimes during its Lebanon campaign this summer.
Michael Ignatieff, a human rights expert and a former Harvard don, said at the weekend that Israel committed a war crime when it bombarded the Lebanese village of Qana in July.
That prompted angry complaints from Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the Liberals, who have more often than not run Canada, had taken an anti-Israel stance.
"I think we all remember last summer when the Liberals were making all these anti-Israeli comments," Harper told reporters, noting that only two candidates to head the party had distanced themselves from such remarks at the time.
Ignatieff has a hold on the largest single number of delegates to the Liberal leadership convention in December, although there could be several rounds of voting and he is by no means guaranteed victory in the race to head the party.
'Hypocritical for them to show their faces'
He said on Friday that it would be up to international bodies to determine whether Israel had committed war crimes at Qana, although he also said he thought both sides in the conflict were guilty of crimes against civilians.
"I do believe that in this explosive conflict, war crimes were visited on Israeli citizens and were visited on Lebanese civilians," he said.
Ignatieff, who stressed his friendship for Israel and said he would travel there soon, said it was disgraceful for Harper to suggest the Liberals were anti-Israeli.
"There is no basis whatever for Mr. Harper to suggest that the Liberal Party is biased against Israel."
Harper said that only two of the eight Liberal leadership candidates, Joe Volpe and Scott Brison, had criticized anti-Israel rhetoric over the summer, and he accused other candidates of being hypocritical when they spoke out against Ignatieff's remarks on Israel this week.
Volpe and Brison are near the bottom of the pack in Liberal support.
"I think for them (the others) to be attacking Michael Ignatieff now -- and I totally disagree with Ignatieff -- but I think it's a bit hypocritical for them to show their faces now," he told reporters.
"They should have done it before."