Washington: The United States is “firmly” opposed to an International Criminal Court probe into Israeli war crimes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

A move by the court’s chief prosecutor to open a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Occupied Territories has sparked a furious reaction from the Israeli regime, Washington’s top ally in the region.

“We firmly oppose this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly,” Pompeo said.

“We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organisations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC.”

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court took a major step Friday towards opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied Occupied Territories, asking judges exactly what territory a future investigation could cover.

The announcement ended years of preliminary investigations into alleged crimes by both Israeli occupation forces and Palestinians and signalled that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is preparing to open a formal probe.

It drew swift condemnation from Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “a dark day for truth and justice”.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed it as “a long overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of preliminary examination”.

While Israel is not a member of the court and does not recognise its jurisdiction, Palestinians have been recognised as a member state and requested an investigation. Even though Israel is not a member of the court, its citizens could face international arrest warrants if the ICC investigation indicts them for war crimes.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” Bensouda said in a statement.

She said she is “satisfied that ... war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”.

Bensouda said she has now asked judges to outline the geographic scope of an investigation.

“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including [occupied] East Jerusalem, and Gaza,” she said.

At the Palestinians’ request, Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation in 2015 into alleged violations of international law following the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

With the peace process at a standstill for more than a decade, the Palestinians have in recent years sought to hold the Israeli regime accountable for violations of international law, including the construction and expansion of Jewish colonies in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.