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UN panel says Israel settlement policy violates human rights

A UN panel of experts has found that Israel's settlement policy 'violates' the human rights of Palestinians. Its report calls on Israel to stop further settlement construction. Israel has denounced the report.

Israeli's policy of promoting Jewish settlements and drive Palestinians off their land violates human rights law, according to the panel, which presented its non-binding report to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

While compiling its report, the panel relied on accounts by governments, non-governmental groups, academics and ordinary citizens, but was not allowed to enter Israel or the occupied territories.

The report's findings come just two days after Israeli diplomats refused to take part in a regular review of their country's human rights record, and further heightens tensions between Israel and the council.

In reply, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the report was "another unfortunate reminder" of council bias against Israel.

"The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions," the ministry said.

Panel cites Geneva Convention

The panel of experts said in its report that Israel was violating the international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the treaties that established the ground rules for what is considered humane during wartime.

"Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights," said French judge Christine Janet, who led the panel.

Israel's settlement policy was preventing the formation of a Palestinian state, said the reports' authors, and therefore undermined the Palestinians right of self-determination.

"The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand," said Unity Dow, a panel member from Botswana.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization said in a statement the report was "proof of Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing" and its desire to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Reacting in a statement from New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his view that "all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, is illegal under international law."

More than 500,000 Israelis already live in settlements along the West Bank and around east Jerusalem.

dr/ipj (AP, dpa, Reuters)