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UN chief ‘deeply concerned’ by Israel’s continuing West Bank settlement expansion

A settler woman walks past an Israeli soldier standing guard in East Jerusalem.
IRIN/Andreas Hackl (file photo)
A settler woman walks past an Israeli soldier standing guard in East Jerusalem.

UN chief ‘deeply concerned’ by Israel’s continuing West Bank settlement expansion

Calling reported ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank “unhelpful” and a “deeply worrisome trend,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today renewed his calls on Israel to heed the global community to freeze settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law.

In a statement from his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban said he “is deeply concerned by the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law.”

“He is particularly troubled by reports that planning for hundreds of housing units in the settlement of Itamar, deep into the West Bank, has advanced to the next stage, as is also the case in the outpost of Bruchin,” the spokesperson said.

These latest reports follow other recent announcements of expansion in Beit El, near Ramallah.

“The Secretary-General also remains concerned about reported plans for around 1,000 settlement units in East Jerusalem and steps to authorize four illegal settlement outposts deep in the West Bank,” according to the statement.

These developments are “unhelpful decisions that undermine progress towards the two-state solution,” Mr. Ban said through his spokesperson, adding that “they constitute a deeply worrisome trend at a moment of ongoing efforts to re-launch peace negotiations.”

Meanwhile, a UN independent expert today reiterated his calls on Israel to end its blockade over the Gaza strip, six years after it was tightened following the Hamas takeover in June 2007.

“The people of Gaza have endured the unendurable and suffered what is insufferable for six years. Israel’s collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza must end today,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk.

“Six years of Israel’s calculated strangulation of the Gaza Strip has stunted the economy and has kept most Gazans in a state of perpetual poverty and aid dependency,” the UN expert added.

Citing statistics released by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Mr. Falk said last month’s exports out of Gaza consisted of 49 truckloads of empty boxes, three truckloads of spices, one truckload of cut flowers, and one truckload of furniture.

In 2012, the total number of truckloads of exports leaving Gaza was 254, compared to 9,787 in 2005 before the tightening of the blockade, he said.

In addition, the UN expert said the productive capacity of Gaza has dwindled since 2007, with 80 per cent of factories in Gaza now closed or operating at half capacity or less due to the loss of export markets and prohibitively high operating costs as a result of the blockade.

“Thirty-four per cent of Gaza’s workforce is unemployed including up to half the youth population, 44 per cent of Gazans are food insecure, 80 per cent of Gazans are aid recipients,” he said, highlighting also the lack of access to potable water, fuel and electricity.

He added that while a small proportion of Gazans can afford to obtain supplies through the tunnel economy, “tunnels alone cannot meet the daily needs of the population in Gaza.”

“It’s clear that the Israeli authorities set out six years ago to devitalize the Gazan population and economy,” the Special Rapporteur said, referring to a study undertaken by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in early 2008 detailing the minimum number of calories Palestinians in Gaza need to consume on a daily basis to avoid malnutrition. The myriad restrictions imposed by Israel do not permit civilians in Gaza to develop to their full potential, and enjoy and exercise fully their human rights.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.