NEW YORK: A United Nations human-rights investigation says the construction of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory on the West Bank is leading to ''creeping annexation'' and must stop.
The report, conducted for the UN Human Rights Council, said Israel was in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit an ''occupying power'' from transferring its own civilian population into territory it occupies. Israel must ''cease all settlement activities without preconditions'' and ''immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers'', it said.
The findings, which were rejected by Israel, may give Palestinians ammunition to take their complaints to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The report showed practices that made Israel ''liable to prosecution'' for war crimes, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, Hanan Ashrawi, said.
About 250 settlements, housing an estimated 520,000 settlers, had been established in the West Bank since 1967,with or without authorisation from the Israeli government, the report said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the Human Rights Council had ''sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel''.
The Palestinians, emboldened by a UN vote last year granting them non-member-state status in the General Assembly, have threatened to take Israel to the war crimes court in The Hague if Israel goes through with plans to build settlements in a particurlalry sensitive area east of Jerusalem known as E1.
Israel has not signed the 2002 founding treaty that created the court. But, should Palestine use its new status to ratify the treaty it ''may lead to accountability for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law'', the report said.