Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank violate international law, and the country must "immediately" withdraw all settlers from such areas, UN human rights investigators have said.
Israel has not co-operated with the inquiry, set up by the Human Rights Council (HRC) last March to examine the impact of settlements in the territory, including East Jerusalem.
The settlements contravene the 1949 Geneva Conventions forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into the occupied territory, which could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it said.
The inquiry was led by French Judge Christine Chanet, and included Asma Jehangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana as panel members."Israel must ... cease all settlement activities without preconditions [and] must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers" from the occupied territories, the fact-finding mission concluded in a report released on Thursday.
In December, the Palestinians accused Israel in a letter to the UN of planning to commit further "war crimes" by expanding Jewish settlements after the Palestinians won de facto UN recognition of statehood and warned that Jerusalem must be held accountable.
Israel says the forum has an inherent bias against it and defends its settlement policy by citing historical and Biblical links to the West Bank.
On Thursday, the Israeli foreign ministry again said that the council was "systematically one-sided and biased".
"Counterproductive measures, such as the report before us, will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict," Yigal Palmor, a ministry spokesperson, said.
The HRC investigators interviewed more than 50 people who came to Jordan in November to testify about confiscated land, damage to their livelihoods including olive trees, and violence by Jewish settlers, according to the report.
"The mission believes that the motivation behind this violence and the intimidation against the Palestinians as well
as their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands and allow the settlements to expand," it said.
Because of the settlements, Palestinians' human rights "are being violated consistently and on a daily basis", the three independent experts said.
Asma Jahangir said the settlements "seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people", which she said is an offence under international humanitarian law.
The experts, who will present their findings to the 47-member state rights council on March 18, also called on the Jewish state to "ensure adequate, effective and prompt remedy to all Palestinian victims [...] of human rights violations that are a result of the settlements".
The council's decision to dispatch the fact-finding mission to determine what impact the settlements are having on the rights of Palestinians so enraged Israel that it immediately cut all ties with the body.
The three experts published their findings just two days after Israel made its anger felt by becoming the first country to ever boycott a special council review of its rights situation.
About 250 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been established since 1967 and they hold an estimated 520,000 settlers, according to the UN report.
The settlements impede Palestinian access to water resources and agricultural lands, the report said. They were also "leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination," it said.
Following the UN General Assembly's vote to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the world body, Israel said it would build 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - areas Palestinians wanted for a future state, along with the Gaza Strip.
The UN human rights inquiry said that the International Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the deportation or transfer
by the occupying power of its own population into the territory.
"Ratification of the [Rome] Statute by Palestine may lead to accountability for gross violations of human rights law and
serious violations of international humanitarian law and justice for victims," the report said, referring to the treaty
setting up the Hague-based UN tribunal, which prosecutes people for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.