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Official: UN fact-finding team to begin settlement probe

Aug. 5, 2012 1:47 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 8, 2012 5:51 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A team of experts set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the legality of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories will start work in August, a Palestinian official said Sunday.

Ibrahim Khreisheh, Palestinian representative to the Human Rights Council, told the Voice of Palestine radio that the fact-finding committee will start work in August and present a preliminary report at the end of September.

The committee will submit its final report in March 2013, he added.

The Palestinian official called on Israel to allow the team to move freely in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The UN Human Rights Council launched a probe in March under an initiative brought to the 47-member forum by the Palestinian Authority. Israel's ally the United States was the only member to vote against it.

The council said Israel's planned construction of new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem undermined the peace process and posed a threat to the two-state solution and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel's Foreign Ministry condemned the decision at the time, saying: "The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC."

The Ministry also vowed that Israel would not cooperate with the fact-finding mission will and will not allow its members to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories.

As the team will not be allowed access to Israeli settlements, they are likely to have to gather information from second-hand sources, including media.

Even if the investigators conclude settlements violate human rights law, US opposition is likely to stymie any attempt to impose any punishment on Israel.

The team is being led by French judge Christine Chanet and includes Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir and Botswana judge Unity Dow. Jahangir.

In July, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, told a news conference that the acceleration of settlement building had "closed the book" on the feasibility of a two-state solution.

All Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war.
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