UPDATE 1-Israeli court temporarily halts Leviathan gas field's trial operations

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JERUSALEM, Dec 17 (Reuters) - An Israeli court issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday suspending trial operations of Israel’s largest offshore natural gas field, Leviathan, over environmental concerns, court documents showed.

The Jerusalem District Court will convene on Sunday for further deliberations on the matter, though it was unclear how long the delay would last.

The companies leading the Leviathan development are Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Drilling . Noble had said it had planned to begin production at Leviathan by the end of the year.

“The Leviathan partners are studying the honorable court’s decision and are ready and prepared to begin supplying gas from Leviathan as soon as possible,” the companies said in a statement.

Leviathan was discovered in 2010 about 120 km (75 miles) off Israel’s coast. But its towering production platform was constructed much closer to shore - just 10 km (six miles) away.

The companies have already signed major, multi-billion dollar export deals to Egypt and Jordan.

Environmental activists and municipalities located near where the pipeline comes to shore had tried unsuccessfully - including at the country’s Supreme Court - to block the plan and force it to be built farther at sea.

The Leviathan partners are now waiting to open the wells and fill the subsea pipeline with natural gas, a process that sends emissions into the air.

The latest petition to halt the process was brought by a several municipalities and an environmental group against the project’s operator, Noble Energy, and Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry.

The court said that because concerns over public health had still not been sufficiently disproven, it was in the meantime freezing the group’s gas emission permit. (Writing by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)