Geneva: UN Human Rights investigators have called on Israel to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.
A three-member UN panel said private companies should stop working in the settlements if their work adversely affected the human rights of Palestinians, and urged member states to ensure companies respected human rights, reports the Daily Times.
Christine Chanet, a French judge who led the UN inquiry, said that Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights.
The settlements contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory and could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations report said.
In December, the Palestinians accused Israel in a letter to the UN of planning to commit what it said were further war crimes by expanding Jewish settlements after the Palestinians won de facto UN recognition of statehood, and said Israel must be held accountable.
Israel has not cooperated with the probe set up by the Human Rights Council last March to examine the impact of settlements in the territory, including East Jerusalem.
Israel says the forum has an inherent bias against it and defends its settlement policy by citing historical and Biblical links to the West Bank. Israel`s Foreign Ministry swiftly rejected the report as "counterproductive and unfortunate", and said the Human Rights Council has distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel, and that the latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation, meanwhile, welcomed its "principled and candid" findings. Hanan Ashrawi, a top PLO official called it "incredible". He said they are extremely heartened by this principled and candid assessment of Israeli violations.