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UN experts: Drop charges against Palestinian Hebron activist

The intervention comes as UNESCO recognises the old city of Hebron as World Heritage Site and Israel pulls funding from body
Issa Amro inspects one of the Youth Against Settlements' offices on 8 November 2015, recently raided by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron (AFP)

The United Nations has urged Israel to abide by international law as it reactivates charges against a prominent Palestinian human rights defender.

Issa Amro, an advocate of non-violent resistance, co-founded the grassroots group Youth Against Settlements, which has relentlessly campaigned against the Israeli military's shutdown of the once-thriving and historic Palestinian neighbourhood around Shuhada Street. The area was on Friday declared part of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Their activities have included running a community centre, organising protest marches and opposing the many restrictions placed by the military on daily Palestinian life.

But Israeli authorities accuse Amro of "insulting a soldier," "assault" and demonstrating without a permit.

"On the information available to us, many of the charges against [Issa] Amro appear to be directed squarely at his lawful right to peacefully protest against the 50-year-old Israeli occupation," said Michel Forst, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights defender and Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, in a statement on Friday.

"If the Israeli military court convicts Mr Amro on any of the charges against him, the convictions will be stained by reasonable doubts about the system's ability to ensure justice," they added.

The experts also raised concerns about the Israeli military court system, which all Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to, meeting many international standards of due process required under international human rights and humanitarian law. The conviction rate under the system is above 99 percent.

The two experts underscored that Amro and other Palestinian human rights defenders have faced a long pattern of harassment, intimidation, discriminatory treatment and physical interference from Israeli military and settler groups, and that the non-violent work of human rights defenders must not be disrupted and attacked by the authorities, even under a military occupation.

"Their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be respected and protected," they stressed.

Last month 34 US Democrat politicians wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in support of Amro, urging him to press Israel to drop the charges.

The intervention from the special rapporteurs comes as another United Nations body, UNESCO, voted to make Hebron's old city a world heritage site.

The heritage site in the city, which for Palestinians is often referred to as Khalil, is also thought to include Shuhadah Street, whose heritage Amro has been instrumental in defending.

The site will also include the ancient Ibrahimi mosque, which sits above the revered cave of the prophets, believed by Christians, Jews and Muslims to be the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives.

The move has been welcomed by Palestinians but slammed by Israel, which is reportedly cutting $1mn from the UN to build a museum in Hebron. Others have taken to social media to express their views on the vote.

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