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Israeli Settlements Expand By Record Amount: UN Rights Chief

The United Nations (UN) human rights chief sounded the alarm on Friday that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories have expanded at an unprecedented rate, amounting to a war crime and potentially eliminating any realistic possibility of a future Palestinian state.

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In a hard-hitting statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said the “shocking” growth of Israeli settler populations and related violations have “reached new levels” over the past year.

“Settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State,” Turk stated in remarks accompanying a 16-page report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

Record Settlement Expansion

Based on UN monitoring, the report documented a record high of around 24,300 new Israeli housing units in the occupied West Bank between November 2022 and October 2023 – the highest since tracking began in 2017.

It also flagged a “dramatic increase” in the intensity and severity of violence by Israeli settlers and security forces against Palestinians, particularly since Hamas attacks on Israel last October that triggered deadly retaliation. Over 400 Palestinians have been killed since then, it said.

The UN findings follow the United States last month denouncing Israel’s settlement expansion plans in the West Bank as “inconsistent” with international law, which deems such civilian transfers into occupied lands as war crimes.

‘Blurring of Lines’

Turk’s report raised concerns over the policies of Israel’s new right-wing government, which includes pro-settler nationalist parties, appearing aligned with the goals of the Israeli settler movement to an “unprecedented extent.”

It documented cases where armed settlers wearing military-style uniforms have harassed or attacked Palestinians, in a “blurring of the lines” between civilians and security forces that has led to Palestinian casualties.

The report’s findings have further diminished prospects for the revival of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s. Successive Israeli settlement expansions have remained a key obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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