No trials

"We will not agree to a situation whereby Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tizpi Livni, who sent soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces to defend our values and citizens, are subject to charges at The Hague," he said, referring to Israel's former prime minister, current defence chief and former foreign minister.

In depth


 Video: Anger at Abbas
 Video: Interview with Richard Goldstone
 Timeline: Gaza War
 Analysis: War crimes in Gaza?
 Goldstone's full report to the UN rights council
 Key points of the Goldstone report
 UN inquiry finds Gaza war crimes
 'Half of Gaza war dead civilians'
 PLO: History of a Revolution
 'Israel has to be accountable'

"We will not agree to a situation whereby army officers and soldiers will be condemned as war criminals after they have defended with respect and courage the citizens of Israel against a brutal and criminal enemy," he said.

The UN report, compiled by a team led by former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accuses Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure during a three-week offensive against Hamas from December to January.

The report also accuses Hamas of war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror with rocket attacks.

Israeli officials across the board have condemned the report, saying their country had little choice but to respond to those rockets.

They also blame Hamas for civilian casualties in Gaza, saying fighters from the Palestinian faction which has de facto control of the territory, took cover in residential areas during the war.

However, Goldstone's strong credentials as a respected South African jurist, his Jewish faith and past support for Israeli causes have made it hard for Israel to dismiss the claims.

Netanyahu has repeatedly lashed out at the report, but Monday's comments appeared to be a direct response to a new Palestinian push for a vote on the report at the UN Human Rights Council.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said Netanyahu was "aiming to waste time" with his statements. 

If the vote takes place, the matter could be referred to higher UN bodies that could, in theory at least, push for war-crimes prosecution.

Push for vote

Earlier this month, Abbas's government had agreed to delay the vote for six months.

That decision, apparently made under heavy US pressure, sparked sharp criticism and protests across Palestinian society, particularly from the Hamas government which is a rival to Abbas's Fatah faction.

About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the 22-day conflict [Reuters]
Netanyahu also repeated a demand that Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state if they want a deal for a state of their own, saying "without recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews we shall not be able to attain peace".

Palestinians criticise the demand as upping the ante from previous negotiations, saying it would discriminate against Israel's Arab minority and deprive Palestinian refugees of their rights to lost properties in what is now Israel.

Abu Rudeineh said Netanyahu's demand was aimed "at not recognising the Palestinian people's right to establish their independent state" and was "a pretext to escape responsibilities [towards the peace process]".

Netanyahu gave no indication in his speech that efforts by Washington to restart the Israeli-Palestinian so-called peace talks, suspended since December, were making any progress.

And he made no mention of a key issue holding up the talks: continued building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that Barack Obama, the US president, has called "illegitimate" and that Palestinians say must stop in accordance with a 2003 peace "road map".

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, ended his latest shuttle mission to the region on Sunday with no sign of any breakthrough.

About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died as a result of the 22-day conflict between last December and January.