U.N. urges Israel to stop building settlements in occupied lands immediately

A Palestinian struggling to breathe is carried away during a protest
A Palestinian struggling to breathe is carried away during a protest against a Jewish settlement near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Friday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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The United Nations on Thursday accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law by expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the settlements are illegal and urging the country’s new government to halt their enlargement immediately.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland reported on the implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity.” It demanded a halt to their expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want to include in a future state.

Smoke rises from a fire as Palestinians protest against West Bank Jewish settlement
Palestinians protest against a Jewish settlement near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Friday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Wennesland said in a briefing to the council on Guterres’ 12-page report that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s approval of a plan to add 540 housing units to the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem as well as the establishment of settlement outposts. He said that is “illegal also under Israeli law.”

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“I again underscore, in no uncertain terms, that Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law,” the U.N. envoy said. “They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.

Israel disputes its settlements are illegal.

Protester shot by Israeli soldiers during a protest against a West Bank Jewish settlement is carried to safety
A Palestinian shot by Israeli soldiers during a protest against a West Bank Jewish settlement is carried to safety. Protesters threw stones, Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces, which responded with tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Both Guterres and Wennesland also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint — “and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs.”

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The December 2016 resolution, which the United States abstained on in the final weeks of the Obama administration, also called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians and urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.

A Palestinian man leading the Friday prayers raises his walking stick in a call to arms after they were tear gassed.
A man raises his walking stick in a call to arms after a group of Palestinians were tear gassed while praying at a protest against a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

It also called on all parties to launch negotiations on final status issues and urged intensified international and regional diplomatic efforts to help end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace.

Guterres and Wennesland made clear that 4½ years after the resolution’s adoption, none of these appeals have been met.

Wennesland said the period between March and June covered in the report “witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years.”

A Palestinians slings a tear gas canister fired by Israeli soldiers as they protest against West Bank Jewish settlement.
A Palestinian protester slings a tear gas canister back toward Israeli soldiers who fired it.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

He said the cessation of hostilities after last month’s 11-day Gaza war “remains very fragile,” adding that the United Nations is working closely with Israel, the Palestinians and partners including Egypt “to solidify a cease-fire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.”

Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has demanded significant easing of the Israeli blockade. Israel has said it won’t tolerate even relatively minor attacks from Gaza, including the launch of incendiary balloons, which triggered Israeli airstrikes last week.

A Palestinian man chokes on tear gas during a protest
A Palestinian man is overcome by tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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“I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, take steps to reduce tensions, and allow these efforts to succeed,” Wennesland told the council. “Everyone must do their part to facilitate ongoing discussions to stabilize the situation on the ground and avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza.”

He called on all Palestinian factions “to make serious efforts to ensure the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate, democratic, national government,” saying that Gaza must remain part of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.

Palestinians seek shelter from tear gas in an ambulance
Palestinians seek shelter from tear gas in an ambulance during a protest against a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on Friday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

During the March-to-June reporting period, Guterres said 295 Palestinians, including 42 women and 73 children, were killed by Israeli security forces, and 10,149 were injured during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, airstrikes, shelling and other incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The U.N. chief said 90 members of the Israeli security forces and 857 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinians during the same period in clashes, incidents in which stones and firebombs were thrown, the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars and other incidents.

Palestinians run in different directions to avoid tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during their protest.
Palestinians try to avoid tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during their protest Friday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The Gaza war was the worst escalation of hostilities since 2014, with Palestinian armed groups firing over 4,000 rockets and projectiles toward Israel and Israeli forces carrying out over 1,500 strikes from air, land and sea across the Gaza Strip, Guterres said, quoting Israeli sources. During the conflict, 259 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 41 women, while nine Israelis, including two children, were killed along with three foreigners.

A Palestinian raises his arms in front of a line of protesters chanting slogans at Israeli soldiers
A Palestinian raises his arms in front of a line of protesters chanting slogans at Israeli soldiers during Friday’s protest.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)