London (AFP) - Almost 80,000 people had by Monday signed a petition urging the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes when he visits London next month.
The petition was launched earlier this month by British citizen Damian Moran and is posted on the government's website.
"Under international law he (Netanyahu) should be arrested for war crimes upon arrival in the UK for the massacre of over 2,000 civilians in 2014," Moran said, referring to the 51-day offensive by Israeli forces in Gaza last year.
If the number of signatories reaches 100,000, the petition can be considered for debate in Britain's parliament.
But Moran told media he doubted it would reach the chamber given the close relationship between Israel and Britain.
The British government was obliged to respond after the document received 10,000 signatories, saying that "visiting heads of foreign governments, such as prime minister Netanyahu, have immunity from legal process, and cannot be arrested or detained".
"We recognise that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll," it added.
"As the prime minister (David Cameron) said, we were all deeply saddened by the violence and the UK has been at the forefront of international reconstruction efforts.
"However the prime minister was clear on the UK's recognition of Israel's right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law."
Britain is pushing for a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "will reinforce this message to Mr Netanyahu during his visit" in September, according to the response.
Any British citizen can launch a petition on the government's website, asking for a specific action from the government or parliament's lower House of Commons.
Only British citizens are meant to sign the petitions, but need only enter a name, email address and valid postcode.
Israel launched military action in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on July 8 last year, leading to the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 66 Israeli soldiers.
Pro-Palestinian British lawyers unsuccessfully tried to arrest former Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni following the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
Israel's embassy in London called the latest petition a "meaningless publicity stunt".