THE HAGUE  - The International Criminal Court prosecutor said Tuesday he would hold off on a preliminary probe into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories until the UN rules on Palestinian statehood.

"The office (of the prosecutor) has assessed that it is for the relevant bodies at the UN or the Assembly of State Parties to make a legal determination whether Palestine qualifies as a state for the purpose of acceding to the Rome Statute", the court's founding treaty, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The Palestinian Authority in January 2009 accepted the Hague-based court's jurisdiction, asking prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to launch a war crimes investigation against Israel following the Gaza war in December 2008 - January 2009.

It wanted Moreno-Ocampo to look into "acts committed on the territory of Palestine" going as far back as July 2002.

Moreno-Ocampo's office then opened a preliminary probe to see if there were grounds to proceed with an investigation.

Tuesday's statement however said the court's reach was not based on a principle of universal jurisdiction and it could open investigations only if asked to do so by either the UN Security Council or by a recognised state.

Palestine does not have full UN membership, though it has asked for one. Human rights groups Tuesday strongly criticised the prosecutor's statement.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces on Tuesday razed four homes and dozens of electricity pylons near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinian witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.

"At 4:00 am (0100 GMT) army tractors demolished four homes and 52 electricity pylons in the al-Makhrureh area of Beit Jalla," Mazen al-Azzeh, coordinator of the Popular Campaign to Fight Settlements in Bethlehem, told AFP.

"Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are to hold renewed talks, in what would be their first public meeting in more than two months, a senior official said on Tuesday.

"There are preparations with the Israeli side to have a meeting between Saeb Erakat and Yitzhak Molcho in the next few hours or days," the senior Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, speaking in Cairo, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Erakat would meet on Tuesday with a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he gave no additional details.

The last time the two negotiators met publicly was on January 25 in Amman in what was the last of a series of five exploratory meetings aimed at finding a way back to direct negotiations, which ultimately ended without any progress.

An Israeli newspaper also reported that the two sides were planning to meet to discuss a letter that Abbas is preparing to hand to Netanyahu.