Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's inner cabinet has formally decided not to take part in an International Court of Justice hearing that will focus on the security barrier Israel is building along the West Bank.
The ministerial team, headed by Prime Minister Sharon issued a statement following its meeting late Thursday saying the team had decided to make do with the affidavit Israel filed on January 1, stating that the court does not have the authority to hold hearings on the fence.
Legal teams had advised the Israeli leadership not to take part in the oral hearings that are due to begin February 23 in The Hague. Experts had argued that doing so would lend legitimacy to a case that is politically motivated. They also say the case brought by the Palestinians is outside the jurisdiction of the court.
Alan Baker, the Foreign Ministry legal adviser, said that "after having examined all the written statements that were submitted by other countries, Israel does not feel it has anything to add."
The European Union and a number of countries have sided with Israel over the issue.
The Palestinian Authority issued a statement following the Israeli decision saying that Israel's failure to appear constitutes an admission that the barrier is illegal and cannot be legally defended.
Israel says the barrier is needed for protection against suicide bombers. The Palestinians say it is a land grab that keeps thousands of Palestinians from their jobs, schools and farmland.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli troops in a pre-dawn shooting near the West Bank town of Jenin on Friday. An army spokesman said the troops killed the driver of what they described as a suspicious vehicle outside the village of Qabatiya. The spokesman said the soldiers had come under fire. Palestinian witnesses said the dead man was a farmer on his way to his field.
Israel tightened restrictions for Friday Muslim prayers at the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli security forces have been on high alert for the past two days after Palestinian militant groups threatened retaliation for the deaths of 15 Palestinians in clashes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
The militant group Hamas called on its members to attack Israelis everywhere in revenge for the raids. Such calls have been followed by suicide bombings in the past. In Gaza on Thursday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian boy. Witnesses say the 12-year-old was playing with friends. Israel's military says the child was trying to lead troops into an ambush.