JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The link between Israel's settlement expansion in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinians from their homes is now "abundantly clear," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said Tuesday.
"Many displacements are taking place where settlements are expanding and with it we are seeing an upturn in vicious attacks by Jewish settlers. Palestinians are being thrown off their ancestral lands to make way for settlers," Gunness told Ma'an.
Figures released Tuesday by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees showed a sharp rise in demolitions of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures by Israeli authorities in the West Bank.
The UN Relief and Works Agency said 356 structures had been demolished in the first six months of this year, compared with 431 for the whole of 2010.
And the agency said 700 people had been displaced by the demolitions in the first six months of 2011, compared with 594 in the whole of 2010. In June and July, some 605 Palestinians were displaced or affected by demolitions, many of whom were children.
Israel's restrictions on movement, confiscation of land and resources, revocation of residency rights, harassment from the Israeli military, settler attacks and lack of protection against settler attacks were also causes of displacement in the West Bank, the UN agency said.
Israel's demolitions and policies in Area C -- the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control -- were driving already poor families deeper into poverty, Gunness said.
"There is growing evidence that it is destroying the very fabric of these communities and ultimately contributing to a demographic shift which is changing the ethnic make-up of the West Bank," he added.
Israel only allows Palestinians to build on one percent of Area C under a system UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pilay has condemned as discriminatory. Most demolitions occur in Area C.
Israel says its demolitions of homes are based only on whether the structures in question have the appropriate permits.
But Gunness said demolitions had escalated in areas targeted for settlement expansion, adding that it was "a cause of great concern."
Meanwhile, the UN official says it is "virtually impossible" for Palestinians to obtain permission to build on their land "while Israeli settlements receive preferential treatment in the allocation of water and land, and approval of development plans."
UNRWA urged the Israeli government to end the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in the occupied territories "including immediately ceasing demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures."
"We call for transparency, accountability and an end to policies and practices that violate Israel's obligations under international law."
Israel's construction of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land is illegal under international law.
The last round of peace talks collapsed over Israel's refusal to extend a partial freeze on settlement construction.The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel builds on land which would be a Palestinian state under an agreement.