Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday blasted a United Nations probe into Israel's winter offensive against Hamas as nothing but a "kangaroo court," after the investigators accused Israel of committing war crimes in a report.

"The Goldstone report is a kangaroo court against Israel, whose consequences harm the struggle of democratic countries against terror," said Netanyahu during closed meetings, in his first response to the report, which was released on Tuesday.

He was referring to the report's author, Richard Goldstone, a South African war crimes prosecutor.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel's deputy foreign minister said the report, which focuses on Israel's winter offensive against Hamas in the coastal territory, was "dangerous" and legitimized terrorism.

"The Goldstone report is a dangerous attempt to harm the principle of self-defense by democratic states and provides legitimacy to terrorism," Danny Ayalon told the heads of the American Jewish Committee during a meeting in New York.

The deputy minister urged the Jewish community leaders to work together in order to combat the report.

Though the report accuses both Israel and Hamas of carrying out war crimes during the three-week campaign in Gaza, it focuses primarily on Israel's actions during the hostilities.

The hostilities erupted on 27 December 2008 and lasted three weeks; Israel says 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, of whom the majority were militants. Human rights groups say, however, that approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the fighting: ten soldiers and three civilians.

Israel launched the offensive in response to persistent Palestinian rocket fire against towns and communities in the western Negev.

Ayalon added: "The Goldstone Report should be treated like the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, thus we must mobilize and act with all force against the report in order to remove it".

Peres: Gaza probe makes mockery of history

President Shimon Peres issued a similarly scathing response to the report on Wednesday, which he said "makes a mockery of history."

"The Goldstone Commission report is a mockery of history," said Peres in reference to Richard Goldstone, the author of the report. "It fails to distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self defense."

In his statement, Peres added: "The report in practice grants legitimacy to terrorism, premeditated shooting and killing while ignoring the duty and the right of a state to defend itself, something which is explicitly stated in the UN charter."

He blamed Hamas for launching the war, and said it also committed other "horrific crimes."

"Hamas has employed terrorism for years against Israeli children," he said. "It has detonated explosive devices in the heart of Israeli cities, harmed civilians, launched over 12,000 missiles and mortar shells aimed at innocent civilians with one clear goal in mind - to kill."

Peres noted that Israel had evacuated its soldiers and citizens from Gaza, opened the Hamas-ruled territory's crossings and aided in the rehabilitation of the Strip. After the Israeli evacuation in 2005, he said, Gaza was overrun by force by a "murderous, illegitimate terrorist organization," which launched a coup against the Palestinian Authority.

"Instead of building Gaza and worrying about the welfare of its residents, Hamas built offensive tunnels against Israel and brutally used Palestinian children and civilians in order to conceal terrorists and hide weapons," Peres said.

The president added that criticism against Israel's actions fails to offer effective alternatives that can stifle rocket fire against the country's outlying towns.

"It is a fact that the criticism leveled against Israel's actions in response to Hezbollah fire from Lebanon and Hamas fire from Gaza and against the building of the separation fence did not stop the shooting in the south, the shooting in the north, and the planting of explosives in the center," he said.

"IDF operations are what brought about economic prosperity in the West Bank, liberated Lebanon from the wrath of Hezbollah, and enabled Gaza residents to return to their daily routines."

Barak: UN Gaza report is a 'prize for terror'

The findings of the UN report constitute "a prize for terrorism," aides to Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Wednesday.

"The comparison between those who foment terrorism and its victims is unconscionable," an Israeli defense official told Israel Radio.

The defense establishment is making efforts to extend legal aid to officers who may face indictment on war crimes charges abroad, Israel Radio reported.

Earlier Wednesday, Ayalon said the findings of the UN report were predetermined, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.

Ayalon said that Israel's cooperation with Goldstone would not have altered "one word" of the report. On the contrary, it would have "legitimized" the findings, Ayalon told Israel Radio.

Ayalon said the report "is a cynical attempt at role reversal in blaming Israel for war crimes instead of terrorist organizations." He added that Israel would work to enlist the support of Western democracies in a campaign "to prevent turning international law into a circus."

The deputy foreign minister, who is currently on a trip to Washington, told Israel Radio that the U.S. and the European Union both opposed the UN commission of inquiry.

Ayalon said he planned to meet Wednesday with U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to discuss ways to minimize the report's damage to Israel before it is submitted to the Security Council for deliberations.