The US State Department late on Friday condemned the International Criminal Court's decision to open a preliminary probe into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories, calling it a "tragic irony."
"We strongly disagree with the ICC Prosecutor’s action today. As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that Palestine is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement.
The International Criminal Court on Friday launched an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, opening a path to possible charges against Israelis or Palestinians.
"It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC," Rathke further said.
"The place to resolve the differences between the parties is through direct negotiations, not unilateral actions by either side. We will continue to oppose actions against Israel at the ICC as counterproductive to the cause of peace," he added.
Also blasting the move, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday the ICC's scandalous decision intended to hurt Israel's right to defend itself from terror. "The same court which – with more than 200,000 dead in Syria – has not found cause to intervene there, or in Libya, or in other places, finds it appropriate to 'examine' the most moral military in the world, in a decision based entirely on anti-Israeli political considerations."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed the Palestinians - whose peace talks with Israel have collapsed - will formally become an ICC member on April 1 at their request, a move strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
On January 1, a day before requesting ICC membership, the Palestinian government asked the prosecutors to investigate alleged crimes committed on its territory since June 13, 2014, the day three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, leading Israel to launch a military operation in Palestinian territories.
"The office will conduct its analysis in full independence and impartiality," said the prosecution office in a statement, adding that it was a matter of "policy and practice" to open a preliminary examination after receiving such a referral.
"The case is now in the hands of the court," said Nabil Abuznaid, head of the Palestinian delegation in The Hague. "It is a legal matter now and we have faith in the court system."
Official sources in Jerusalem said "Israel categorically denies the announcement by the prosecutor on the opening of a preliminary examination based on the scandalous request by the Palestinian Authority."
"The PA is not a country and thus there is no cause for the court, even accords to its rules, to undertake such an inquiry. The decision is absurd, even more so given that the PA cooperates with terror organization Hamas, which commits war crimes against Israel – who is fighting terror," added the sources.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki welcomed the move and said the Palestinian Authority would cooperate.
"The Palestinian people called upon us to go to court and ask for an investigation and therefore we consider the announcement today as a historic event," he said.
As explained by Ynet earlier in the week, the investigation of senior Israeli officials remains far in the future, if it ever occurs. The ICC is currently conducting eight preliminary examinations – in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Nigeria, and Ukraine.
In the Georgian case, ICC officials have been mulling an investigation for seven years; in Ukraine, eight months have passed without a clear decision by the court.
A preliminary examination, which could take many years, involves prosecutors assessing the strength of evidence of alleged crimes, whether the court has jurisdiction and how the "interests of justice" would best be served.
Only if that led to a full investigation could charges be brought against officials on either the Israeli or Palestinian side of the conflict. An initial inquiry could lead to war crimes charges against Israel, whether relating to last conflict in Gaza or Israel's 47-year-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It also exposes the Palestinians to prosecution, possibly for rocket attacks by militant groups operating out of Gaza.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.