Silvan Shalom told Powell on Thursday that Israel intends to question the competence of the world court and its ability to pass a legal opinion on the West Bank separation barrier.

The minister believes the ICJ is incapable of passing a meaningful ruling on the substance of the case and suffers from procedural issues too, according to a statement from his ministry.

He also charged that the ICJ's decision to debate the ethics of the barrier gives "comfort to the Palestinian refusal to relaunch peace talks with Israel."

The court, which can only give an advisory opinion in this case and whose rulings are not legally binding, "is not the appropriate place to examine a subject that is so complicated, and at the heart of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians," he added.

US agreement

Powell for his part said the United States was also opposed to the ICJ hearing, according to the Israeli statement.

The legality of the West Bank barrier, which has drawn condemnation even from the United States, is to be debated by the Hague-based court on 23 February following an Arab-backed request by the UN General Assembly.

Israel says the barrier is crucial to preventing deadly raids by Palestinian militants.

But the Palestinians see the barrier, which in places cuts deep into the West Bank, as a land-grab and a bid to pre-empt the borders of their promised state.