JERUSALEM - Israel is lobbying member-states of the International Criminal Court to cut funding for the tribunal in response to its launch of an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, officials said on Sunday.
ICC prosecutors said on Friday they would examine "in full independence and impartiality" crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. This allows the court to delve into the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.
The decision came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the absence of peace talks and against strong opposition from Israel and the United States, requested ICC membership, which comes into effect on April 1. Israel , which like the United States does not belong to the ICC , hopes to dent funding for the court that is drawn from the 122 member-states in accordance with the size of their economies, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.
"We will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it," he told Israel Radio. "This body represents no one. It is a political body," he said. "There are a quite a few countries - I've already taken telephone calls about this - that also think there is no justification for this body's existence." He said he would raise the matter with visiting Canadian counterpart John Baird on Sunday.
Another Israeli official told Reuters that a similar request was sent to Germany, traditionally one of the court's strongest supporters, and would also be made to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is separately visiting Jerusalem and whose nation is the largest contributor to the ICC . Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist group by Israel and the West, on Saturday welcomed the ICC inquiry and said it was prepared to provide material for complaints against the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, Canada's top diplomat denounced Sunday the International Criminal Court for opening a preliminary probe into possible war crimes by Israel , which counts on his country as one of its staunchest allies.
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.
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 .
"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. Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also currently visiting Israel , is the biggest financial backer of the ICC , contributing 20.4 million euros in 2014, according to figures up to June 30.
Earlier, during talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki, Baird warned against pursuing a diplomatic agenda that could prejudice the outcome of any future talks with Israel .  "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.
As he left Ramallah for Jerusalem, angry young Palestinian protestors were seen hurling eggs at his motorcade.
Hearing of Baird's Ramallah incident, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin broke from protocol and left his residence to greet Baird by his vehicle at the beginning of their meeting.
Rivlin described the ICC 's decision to investigate Israel as "blasphemy against international law," and Baird assured the Israeli leader Canada would assist Israel in its legal battle.
"In the court of international opinion, Israel already has one hand tied firmly behind its back, and we will not allow the international community to tie the other hand as well," Rivlin said, according to a statement.
Canada is a steadfast ally of Israel , 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, expressed anger over Canada's 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 in a statement.