Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday rejected the "absurd" decision by the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes committed during the summer war in Gaza, saying it is absurd that "Palestinian terrorists who routinely commit multiple war crimes" will be the ones pressing charges against Israel.
ICC prosecutors said the preliminary examination would scrutinize "in full independence and impartiality" crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year, opening a path to possible charges against Israelis or Palestinians.
Hamas on Saturday said that it was willing to provide the ICC with "thousands of reports and documents" indicating on Israel has "committed horrible crimes against Gaza." In response to that, Netanyahu said he "won't be surprised if ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah follow suit."
The prime minister charged that "this decision is even more preposterous given that Israel is legitimately defending itself against Palestinian terrorists who routinely commit multiple war crimes. They deliberately fire thousands of rockets at our civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians, whom they use as a human shield."
He also lamented the fact that the "Palestinians are cynically manipulating the ICC to deny the Jewish state the right to defend itself against war crimes, the very terror that the court was established to prevent."
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The court's decision came after Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested ICC membership, against strong opposition from Israel and the United States.
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.
Israel rejected the court's Friday decision as hypocrisy and the US State Department said it was "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".
"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 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.
The June 13 date would allow the court to look at the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 during which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed.
Prosecutors will assess evidence of alleged crimes and determine if they are of sufficient gravity and scale to warrant charges against individuals on either side.
Earlier Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Islamist group appreciated the move. "What is needed now is to quickly take practical steps in this direction and we are ready to provide (the court) with thousands of reports and documents that confirm the Zionist enemy has committed horrible crimes against Gaza and against our people," he said in a statement.
On Friday, PA 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.
Israel in 2005 pulled its settlers and troops out of Gaza, which remains under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Palestinians seek statehood in Gaza and the West Bank.
Reuters and Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report.