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UN rights chief accuses Israel of war crime over settlements in Palestinian lands

UN rights chief accuses Israel of war crime over settlements in Palestinian lands
UN - United Nations

The UN human rights chief said on Friday that Israel is committing a war crime by building and expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which belong to the Palestinians.

Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a report that Israel is violating international law by transferring its own population into the occupied territories, where more than 600,000 settlers now live.

The UN rights chief said the settlements are destroying the rights and livelihoods of the Palestinians, who want to create their own state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

He said the settlements also threaten the peace and security of the region, as they fuel violence and resentment between the two sides.

He therefore urged Israel to stop the settlement activity and dismantle the existing ones, as well as to end the blockade of Gaza and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

The chief also called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions and to support the Palestinians in their quest for justice and self-determination.

The report covers the period from November 2022 to October 2023, when it says Israel approved or advanced about 24,300 housing units in the West Bank, the highest number in a year since the UN started monitoring in 2017.

The report also says Israel announced plans to build nearly 3,500 more settler homes in three areas this week, which Türk said "fly in the face of international law".

Israel's mission in Geneva, which often accuses the UN human rights office of bias against Israel, said the report ignored the attacks by Palestinian militants against Israelis, which killed 36 and injured nearly 300 last year.

It said Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens from terrorism and to ensure its security and sovereignty.

Israel does not recognize the 1967 borders as the basis for a future Palestinian state and claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital.

It says the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that the issue should be resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, who have been living under Israeli occupation since 1967, say the settlements are illegal and make their statehood impossible.

They have been fighting for their independence in a decades-long conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions of people.

The latest round of violence erupted on October 7, when the Islamist group Hamas launched rockets at Israel from Gaza, triggering a massive Israeli military response that killed more than 30,000 Palestinians and displaced more than half a million.

The UN human rights office said the Israeli attacks in Gaza may also amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and called for an independent and impartial investigation.