A UNITED Nations human-rights investigation of Israeli settlements said the construction is leading to "creeping annexation" of the occupied Palestinian territory on the West Bank that must stop.
The report, conducted by a fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council, says Israel is 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," the report says.
The findings, rejected by Israel, may give Palestinians ammunition to take their complaints to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The report shows practices that make Israel "liable to prosecution" for war crimes, said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee.
About 250 settlements in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, have been set up since 1967 either with or without authorisation by the Israeli government, according to the UN report. The number of settlers is estimated at 520,000, it said.
Successive Israeli governments' support for construction of Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which were captured in the 1967 Six Day War, has been criticised by the US, European Union and UN. The report also cites what it says are human-rights violations by Israeli authorities and Jewish settlers against Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The 47-nation Human Rights Council has repeatedly condemned Israel's actions over the years, drawing criticism from the US and also UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for overlooking the record of other nations to focus almost exclusively on Israel.
"The Human Rights Council has distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel," said a statement by Israel's foreign ministry.