The International Criminal Court prosecutor said Tuesday he would hold off on a 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.
Only states need apply
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 while Israel hailed it.
"Today's decision appears to close the door for now on access to the ICC for victims of international crimes committed in the Palestinian Territories -- at least until the General Assembly recognises Palestinian statehood," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
"This dangerous decision opens the ICC to accusations of political bias and is inconsistent with the independence of the ICC," added Marek Marczynski, Head of Amnesty International's International Justice campaign.
"It also breaches the Rome Statute which clearly states that such matters should be considered by the institution's judges," Marczynski added.
The Israeli foreign ministry however said it a statement that "Israel welcomes the decision on the lack of ICC jurisdiction."
"Israel made it clear in the first place that the ICC has no jurisdiction in this matter," it added.