A U.N. official called on the international community to take action against Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories, condemning ongoing settlement expansions and deadly violence against Palestinians.
"The international community must take decisive action in response to Israel's recent intensification of settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which amounts to a clear rebuff of a two-state solution," U.N. Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk said in a statement.
"If these further settlements steps by Israel are left unanswered by the international community, we will be driving past the last exit on the road to annexation," he added.
Lynk stressed that the Israeli settlements are a "flagrant violation" of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. "The settlements are also a presumptive war crime under the 1998 Statute of Rome, and as I have noted many times before, settlements are the source of a range of persistent human rights violations," he added.
The U.N. expert recalled the attacks in al-Mughayyir district near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Jan. 26, where Israeli settlers shot and killed a Palestinian man, revealing a rampant wave of violence against Palestinians. Hamdi Nassan, 38, died after being shot in the back with live ammunition, according to the Palestinian health ministry. His death was just one of a series of deadly attacks carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
"These incidents not only violate numerous human rights such as the rights to life, security of the person, and freedom of movement of Palestinians but also serve to expand the area of land over which Israeli settlers have control," he said.
Israeli daily Haaretz recently reported that settler attacks on West Bank Palestinians had tripled in 2018, with at least 482 separate attacks recorded last year, up from 140 attacks in 2017. According to the newspaper, attacks ranged from beating up Palestinians and vandalizing their property to cutting down trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.
More than 650,000 Jewish settlers now live in 196 settlements built with the Israeli government's approval across the West Bank, according to Palestinian figures. Settlements are one of the most heated issues facing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014. The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace. The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory, and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Palestinians have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous state.