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Israel ends contact with UN council over settlement probe

March 26, 2012 2:37 P.M. (Updated: March 27, 2012 3:51 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel said on Monday it has severed contacts with the UN Human Rights Council after its launch last week of an international investigation into settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The decision, announced by a Foreign Ministry spokesman, meant that the fact-finding team the council planned to send to the West Bank will not be allowed to enter the territory or Israel, said the spokesman, Yigal Palmor.

"We are not working with them any more," Palmor said about the Geneva-based forum. "We had been participating in meetings, discussions, arranging visits to Israel. All that is over."

The ministry told Israel's ambassador to Geneva to ignore all phone calls from the body's chief commissioner Navi Pillay, Haaretz quoted an Israeli official as saying.

A fact-finding team will also be barred from entering the occupied West Bank and Israel to investigate illegal settlement activity, the official added.

The international investigation was launched on Thursday, with the United States isolated in voting against the initiative brought by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the Geneva forum as "hypocritical" and having an "automatic majority against Israel."

"They systematically and serially make all kinds of decisions and condemnations against Israel without even symbolically considering our positions," Palmor said.

He said Israel would continue to cooperate with other UN bodies.

On Friday, PLO official Saeb Erekat said the UN decision was a victory for international law and called on the Israeli government to stop all settlement activity in order to give the peace process a chance.

The UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel's planned construction of new housing units for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying they undermined the peace process and posed a threat to the two-state solution and the creation of a contiguous and independent Palestinian state.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel has occupied since 1967.

Palestinian officials say settlements undermine a viable Palestinian state. They are considered illegal by the International Court of Justice, the highest UN legal body for disputes, while Israel wants their status to be decided in peace talks.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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