Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the decision by the International Criminal Court to launch a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, saying it is "absurd".

Speaking in West Jerusalem on Saturday, a day after the decision was made, Netanyahu said: "It's absurd of the ICC to ignore international law and agreements under which the Palestinians don't have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel. The rules of the ICC are clear: No state, no standing, no case."

The preliminary probe does not mean war crimes were committed but will seek to determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities, which could result in charges being brought against individuals in either Israeli or Palestinian territories.

Palestine applied to join the ICC in December and has since signed the Rome treaty, the charter that led to the formation of the court in 2002. It is due to join the ICC in April but its membership will be backdated to June 2014, meaning that the court will have jurisdiction to look into last summer's offensive between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

The conflict, which left the Gaza Strip run by Hamas devastated, killed more than 2,300 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Israel says it lost 73 people, most of them soldiers.

Netanyahu said Israel, which is not a state party to the ICC, upholds "high standards of international law" and that the country's "actions are subjected to careful and constant review of an independent legal system".

"But this decision is even more preposterous given that Israel is legitimately defending itself against Palestinian terrorists who routinely commit multiple war crimes," said Netanyahu.

"They deliberately fire thousands of rockets at our civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians whom they use as human shields."

Hamas hails decision 

The comments were a veiled reference to Hamas, which said on Saturday it welcomed the ICC's decision.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said the group would provide the ICC with "thousands of reports" suggesting "horrible crimes" were committed.

"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." 

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".

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.

Palestinian foreign minstry officials said on Friday that "everything is going according to plan" and that "no state and nobody can now stop this action we requested".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies