GENEVA/JERUSALEM - The top UN human rights official called on Tuesday for Israel to pull out of territories captured in a 1967 war that Palestinians now seek for a state, saying it would benefit both sides after 50 years of enmity.

In six days of war in June 1967, Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as their capital. The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2014.

In a speech opening a three-week session of the UN Human Rights Council, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein observed the 50th anniversary of when he “first heard the sound of war” as a boy in Amman, Jordan. He said Palestinians were now marking “a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force” and marked by “systematic” violations of international law.

Israelis also deserve freedom from violence, Zeid said, adding: “Maintain the occupation and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain.”

US Ambassador Nikki Haley was to address the Council later in the day and expected to signal that the United States might withdraw unless reforms were ushered in including a removal of what it sees as an “anti-Israel bias”.

There are now 350,000 Israelis living in settlements across the West Bank with an air of permanence. Many countries see the settlements as illegal. Israel disputes this, citing historical, biblical and political connections to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as security considerations. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and deems all of the city its “indivisible and eternal capital”, a status not recognized internationally. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and it is now ruled by the Hamas group.

Zeid also said UN staff had reported that 163 Iraqi civilians were shot dead by Islamic State in western Mosul on June 1 “to prevent them from fleeing” as US-led Iraqi forces seek to oust the militants from their last major urban bastion. “The brutality of Daesh and other terrorist groups seemingly knows no bounds,” he said, using the derogatory Arabic term for the militant group.

Zeid took criticized certain countries for refusing access to his staff or to independent UN investigators, including Burundi, Venezuela and the Philippines which have seats on the 47-member state forum.

At least 65 people have died in Venezuela in unrest since early April, with hundreds more injured. Some 3,000 people have been arrested, with around one-third still behind bars, according to rights group Penal Forum. The killings in Venezuela and “widespread shortages and hunger highlight the increasingly urgent need for an impartial analysis and rapid assistance”, Zeid said.

Congo has two days to heed UN calls to jointly investigate violence in Kasai province or it risks having an international human rights inquiry imposed on it, Zeid added. The Trump administration gave formal notice on Tuesday that it is reviewing its participation in the UN Human Rights Council and called for reforming the body to eliminate what it called its “chronic anti-Israel bias”.

“The United States is looking carefully at this Council and our participation in it. We see some areas for significant strengthening,” Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, told the Geneva forum, opening a three-week session. The Council’s critical stance of Israel has long been a contentious issue for the United States, Israel’s main ally.

Meanwhile, an Israeli panel approved plans on Tuesday for the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades, Israeli media reports said, drawing Palestinian condemnation and defying repeated international appeals to avoid such measures.

If confirmed, the plans, which media said also envisage the construction of some 1,800 other settler homes in the West Bank, are likely to deliver a further serious blow to efforts to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

A spokeswoman for the military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank of which the panel is a part declined to comment on the reports.

Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, could not immediately confirm the reports but said the panel was due to discuss further building plans for the occupied territory on Wednesday.

The reported move follows an Israeli government decision in March to build the new settlement, known as Amichai. It will house some 300 settlers evicted in February from another settlement called Amona.

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Amona settlers after ruling that their homes had been built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to re-house them at a new site in the West Bank.

According to the media reports, the panel approved plans to build 102 homes at the Amichai site for the Amona settlers. Plans for another 1,800 dwellings in several existing settlements were also ratified, the reports said.


Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, reacted angrily to the reports.

“When President (Donald) Trump visited the region, and didn’t mention anything about the settlements, the Israeli government thought that it is a green light to continue expanding settlements against all international laws,” Wassel Abu Yussef, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

The US president did not speak publicly about the settlements during a May 22-23 visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, though he urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “make a deal” for peace that would entail compromise and tough decisions.

At a White House meeting with Netanyahu in February, Trump appeared to catch the Israeli leader off-guard when he urged him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”.

Most countries view settlements that Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.

About 400,000 settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.