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Canada's Baird denounces ICC war crimes probe of Israel

Canada`s top diplomat on Sunday denounced a decision by the International Criminal Court to open a preliminary probe into possible Israeli war crimes, as he arrived for talks in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: Canada`s top diplomat on Sunday denounced a decision by the International Criminal Court to open a preliminary probe into possible Israeli war crimes, as he arrived for talks in Jerusalem.

In a brief statement to reporters, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the ICC`s decision was "deeply regretable" and would feature in his meetings with Israeli officials.

"We look forward to discussing a range of issues, from trade to security, to the deeply regretable decision at the ICC," he said before meeting Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

The ICC`s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said on Friday she was opening "a preliminary examination" into Israel`s actions which will cover a period including last summer`s war in Gaza.

Such a procedure "is not an investigation" but a process to decide whether there are grounds to begin a full probe, she said.

The Palestinians applied to become a party to the ICC earlier this year, in a process that will take effect in early April. They simultaneously recognised the court`s jurisdiction to retroactively cover a period including the Gaza war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the move as "scandalous" and Washington said it was a "tragic irony" that the Jewish state, which had been hit by "thousands of terrorist rockets... is now being scrutinised by the ICC."

Canada played a central role in establishing the ICC and is a key supporter of the court -- a fact which was not lost on Israel.

"We think it is completely unacceptable that a terrorist organisation like Hamas will be able to file a lawsuit against Israel," Lieberman said, standing at Baird`s side.

"It`s making a mockery of international law and the opposition of one of the founders of the ICC is very important, maybe crucial," he said."If we don`t see a real dramatic change in (the Palestinians`) position, we will ask all our friends to stop any funding for the ICC," he said.

Earlier, during talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with counterpart Riyad al-Malki, Baird warned the Palestinians against pursuing a diplomatic agenda that could prejudice the outcome of any future talks with Israel.

Part of that diplomatic strategy includes the move to join the ICC.

"I asked that the minister strongly reconsider the consequences of moving forward with any action that may be counterproductive to a negotiated solution with the state of Israel," Baird said in a statement issued by the Canadian foreign ministry.

He said the two had "constructive talks" which included "candid and frank exchanges on areas where we differ in opinion."

As he left for Jerusalem, protestors hurled eggs at his motorcade, an AFP correspondent said.

Canada is one of Israel`s staunchest allies and was one of the few countries that opposed a successful Palestinian bid to win upgraded status at the United Nations in 2012.

During last summer`s 50-day war in Gaza, which left nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and drew sharp international condemnation, Canada said Israel had the right to defend itself and blamed the bloodshed on Hamas.

In 2013, Baird angered the Palestinians by meeting an Israeli official in occupied east Jerusalem.

Such a move is routinely avoided by visiting diplomats because it could be seen as legitimising Israel`s annexation of the eastern sector of the city following the 1967 Six Day War. The annexation was not recognised internationally.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who did not meet with Baird, issued a statement expressing anger over Canada`s unwavering support for Israel and its attempts to block Palestinian diplomatic initiatives aimed at securing statehood.

"We regret the Canadian government`s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies," he said.