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Israeli settlements 'amount to war crimes,' UN expert says

Israel's occupation will not be 'cost-free,' says UN human rights investigator Michael Lynk
There are nearly 300 settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the UN expert said.
There are nearly 300 settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, the UN expert noted (AFP)

A senior UN rights expert has demanded that Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank be classified as war crimes, and called on the international community to inflict a cost on Israel for its "illegal occupation" of Palestinian lands.

Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a statement on Friday that Israeli settlements were "the engine of Israel's 54-year-old occupation, the longest in the modern world".

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He said settlements violated an absolute ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into an occupied territory, thereby meeting the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statute upon which the International Criminal Court is founded.

Most world bodies, including the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, consider the construction and continued existence of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land to be contrary to international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws such practices, stating: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

"I conclude that the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime," Lynk separately told a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"I submit to you that this finding compels the international community... to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free."

Rare rebuke

During the council's session, Lotte Knudsen, the European Union's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the settlements were illegal under international law:

"Such actions as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscation of homes will only escalate an already tense environment."

The United States, Israel's closest ally, and which has observer status at the UN Human Rights Council, was not on the speakers' list for the debate. Israel is not a member of the council and does not recognise Lynk's mandate.

Israel disputes that its settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank are illegal, citing Biblical and historical connections to the land, as well as security concerns.

US President Joe Biden has said his administration would restore Washington's opposition to Israeli settlements, after his predecessor Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and went on to announce in November 2019 that his administration no longer considered Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be violating international law.

In a rare rebuke on Thursday, the US embassy in Jerusalem formally denounced Israel's demolition of the family home of a Palestinian-American who was arrested in May after he fatally shot an Israeli civilian at a Nablus-area checkpoint.