British physicist Stephen Hawking has dropped plans to attend a major international conference in Israel in June, citing his belief that he should respect a Palestinian call to boycott contacts with Israeli academics.

The University of Cambridge released a statement Wednesday indicating that Hawking had told the Israelis last week that he would not be attending "based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott."

University officials said they had "previously understood" that Hawking's decision was based solely on health concerns — he is 71 and has severe disabilities — but had now been told otherwise by Hawking's office.

The decision means that one of the world's most famous scientists has joined a boycott organized to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians.