Ra'anan Gissin, adviser to the Israeli prime minister, told Aljazeera.net that Israel was closing checkpoints as a precautionary measure ahead of the Israeli elections on Tuesday.

Earlier reports quoting an unnamed Israeli army spokesman said that Israel had turned the Qalandiya passage into an international border crossing, pointing out that the decision would be effective immediately.

Palestinians fear the switch would further strangle Palestinain territories by separating Jerusalem from the rest of West Bank.

"The decision has not been taken yet," Gissin told Aljazeera.net. "What we have done is closing checkpoints as a necessary step to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks."

Gissin said the decision is on the agenda of some Israeli officials and could be adopted after the elections.

He was referring to Ehud Olmert, the acting Israeli prime minister, who said he plans to withdraw unilaterally from large parts of the West Bank if he wins the elections.

Olmert said he would hold talks with Washington and other countries on an Israeli pull-out from the West Bank and demarcation of Israel's international borders, if there are no peace talks with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials criticised the plan, saying that it would turn "their country into isolated cantons".

Saeb Erikat, the Palestinian negotiations official, said the move will further strangle the Palestinian territories.

Olmert proposes completing the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank that has been under construction for more than four years, incorporating main settlement blocs on the "Israeli" side and moving settlers outside the barrier into the blocs.

Up to now the US and Europe have opposed Israeli settlements in the West Bank and have called for borders to be fixed through negotiations, not unilateral action, but Olmert remained hopeful.