UN rights office says Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas amount to a ‘war crime’

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk speaks at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. The U.N. human rights office says in a report published Friday, March 8, 2024, that the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amount to a war crime. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

FILE – U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk speaks at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. The U.N. human rights office says in a report published Friday, March 8, 2024, that the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amount to a war crime. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights office says in a report published Friday that the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amount to a war crime.

The report covers the one-year period from Nov. 1, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023, when it says roughly 24,300 housing units in existing settlements in the West Bank were “advanced” — the highest number in a year since monitoring began in 2017. It deplored an increase in the building of new settlement homes in recent months.

“The West Bank is already in crisis. Yet, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state,” U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said. He presented the report to the Human Rights Council on Friday.

Reports this week that Israel plans to build nearly 3,500 settler homes in three areas “fly in the face of international law,” he said.

Türk said the creation and expansion of settlements amount to the transfer by Israel of its own population into territories that it occupies, “which amounts to a war crime under international law,” his office said in a statement.

Israel’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, which regularly accuses Türk’s office of overlooking violence by Palestinian extremists against Israelis, said the report “totally ignored” what it said was the deaths of 36 Israelis and injuries of nearly 300 others in attacks due to “Palestinian terrorism” last year.

Much of the international community considers the settlements to be illegal under international law.

Expanded settlement activity and an upsurge in violence in the West Bank in recent months have been largely overshadowed by bloodshed and displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israeli forces have led a blistering military campaign against the militant group Hamas following its deadly Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

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