Hanna Issa, the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Secretary-General for the Islamic-Christian Council for Jerusalem and the Holy Places, has announced that the number of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) has reached 503, with 474 located in the West Bank and 29 in East Jerusalem.
In a press release today, Issa also stated that the illegal settlers living in these settlements number over one million, adding that the settler population is increasing at a far higher rate than the population growth rate of Israel itself.
He also expressed concern that the growing number of settlements and their population would be a further hindrance to the creation of a future Palestinian state if they cut the occupied West Bank off from East Jerusalem, which Palestinians have earmarked as their future capital.
"How can we talk about an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the June 4, 1967 borders and a Palestinian population of five million today, [when] Israeli settlements are swallowing land, depriving indigenous people of their freedom and economy, while concealing the possibility of real sovereignty?"
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Throughout the past few decades, the building of illegal Israeli settlements in the oPt has increased, despite the fact that this is in direct violation of international law.
Issa reiterated this fact, citing laws such as Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids occupying states from transferring civilians to occupied territory. Another example is the International Criminal Court (ICC) Convention of 1998, which considers as war crimes the occupying state's transfer of its civilian population to the territories it occupies.
Issa's remarks come amid a recent increase in assaults by Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian land, such as setting fire to farmland in the occupied West Bank in order to destroy Palestinians' livelihood and the demolition and seizure of Palestinian households in East Jerusalem to make space for new Jewish-Israeli homes.
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