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Expansion of Israeli settlements is war crime: UN rights chief

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GENEVA: Expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories constitutes “a war crime” and risks eliminating any likelihood of a viable Palestinian state, the UN rights chief warned on Friday.

Volker Turk said there had been a drastic acceleration in Israeli illegal settlement building in the occupied West Bank since the Gaza crisis unfolded in October.

In his statement, the UN high commissioner for human rights said creating and expanding settlements amounted to the transfer by Israel of its own civilian population into occupied territories.

“Such transfers amount to a war crime that may engage the individual criminal responsibility of those involved,” Turk said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Israeli plans to build another 3,476 settler homes in the occupied West Bank colonies of Maale Adumim, Efrat and Kedar “fly in the face of international law”, he said.

Turk said that during the period covered by his report — Nov 1, 2022, to Oct 31, 2023 — some 24,300 housing units were added to existing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

That marks the largest number on record since monitoring began in 2017. It includes nearly 9,700 units in east Jerusalem, the UN rights office said.

Turk’s report found that the Israeli government’s policies “appear aligned, to an unprecedented extent, with the goals of the Israeli settler movement to expand long-term control over the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and to steadily integrate this occupied territory into the state of Israel”.

At the same time, Palestinians are being forced from their homes by Israeli settler and state violence, it said.

It also pointed to forced evictions, non-issuance of building permits, home demolitions and movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians.

“Settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state,” Turk warned.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2024

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