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Israeli PM Denounces ICC War Crime Probe of Israel


FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2015.
FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again denounced the move by the International Criminal Court to launch an inquiry into possible war crimes committed against the Palestinians.

In a televised speech Saturday, he called the move "absurd."

Netanyahu said the "ultimate folly" of the decision was that the democracy of Israel, a world leader in fighting terrorism, was being investigated by the ICC. At the same time, he said, "the terrorist criminals of Hamas" will be pressing the charges.

He said he would not be surprised if the Islamic State, al-Qaida and Hezbollah followed suit.

Hamas, meanwhile, welcomed the court decision, saying Israel had committed "horrible crimes” against the Palestinian people. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi called the ICC decision "a very encouraging sign, because it means that for the first time in its history, Israel is beginning to see some sort of accountability and some sort of global moves, particularly within the global legal system, to investigate its current actions and its war crimes.”

The probe, announced Friday, is not an investigation, but weighs information about possible crimes and jurisdiction issues to establish whether a full investigation is merited.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office would conduct an "analysis in full independence and impartiality."

The United States has also condemned the International Criminal Court's decision to launch the inquiry. “Our position on this is clear," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said. "We don’t think that the Palestinians have established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court.”

If a full probe does go forward, it would open the door for charges against both Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority recently submitted documents to the United Nations to join the ICC. The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, called that move a "very significant step" that is necessary to seek justice for alleged crimes against the Palestinian people.

The ambassador said the Palestinians were seeking retroactive jurisdiction from the ICC regarding crimes allegedly committed during last year's war in Gaza, which left nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead, including many children, while 73 Israelis were killed, mostly soldiers.

Netanyahu said Hamas had fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

The document handover was the last formal step for the Palestinians to join the ICC, a process that takes at least 60 days.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the documents after the U.N. Security Council rejected a draft resolution setting a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.

Israel responded by freezing $125 million in Palestinian tax revenues. The Palestinians rely on that monthly money transfer from Israel to run their government and pay the salaries of civil servants. Both the European Union and the U.S. criticized Israel's decision.

By becoming members of the ICC, the Palestinians also open themselves up to countercharges of war crimes.

The U.N. formed the ICC in 1998. The court is considered an independent judicial institution and is not supervised by the United Nations. It prosecutes suspects accused of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. The court has no power to make arrests, but it does have the authority to issue arrest warrants, which can make it a problem for suspects to travel.

VOA's Robert Berger contributed to this report.