UN report deplores ‘rapid deterioration’ of rights in West Bank

GENEVA (Reuters) -A United Nations report published on Thursday deplored what it called a “rapid deterioration” of human rights in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and urged Israeli authorities to end violence against the Palestinian population there.

The report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said 300 Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7, the day Hamas gunmen went on a deadly rampage into southern Israel from Gaza and took hostages back to the Palestinian enclave.

Most of the West Bank killings occurred during operations by Israeli security forces or confrontations with them.

At least 105 deaths could be attributed to Israeli operations involving air strikes or other military tactics in refugee camps or other densely-populated areas. At least eight people were killed by Jewish settlers, it said.

Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, dismissed the report as “quite ridiculous”.

“It completely belittles the major security threats to Israelis emerging from Judea and Samaria,” she said, referring to the West Bank by its Hebrew biblical names.

“Yes, we arrested hundreds of terror suspects in that area and we will continue to do whatever it takes to maintain our security.”

Volker Turk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the use of unnecessary or disproportionate force against Palestinians in the West Bank was “extremely troubling”.

“I call on Israel to take immediate, clear and effective steps to put an end to settler violence against the Palestinian population, to investigate all incidents of violence by settlers and Israeli security forces, to ensure effective protection of Palestinian communities,” he said.

The OHCHR said it had also recorded mass arbitrary detentions, unlawful detentions and cases of reported torture and other forms of ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees. It said some 4,785 Palestinians had been detained in the West Bank since Oct. 7.

“Some were stripped naked, blindfolded and restrained for long hours with handcuffs and with their legs tied, while Israeli soldiers stepped on their heads and backs, were spat at, slammed against walls, threatened, insulted, humiliated and in some cases subjected to sexual and gender-based violence,” an OHCHR statement about the report said.

Israel’s military has said it operates against suspected militants in the West Bank and that investigations have been launched into cases of possible ill treatment of detainees.

The West Bank had already been experiencing the highest levels of unrest in decades during the 18 months preceding the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas gunmen, but confrontations have risen sharply after Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mark Heinrich)