- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

GENEVA — Jewish settlers are terrorizing Palestinians with impunity, attacking children on their way to school and destroying farmers’ trees and crops, a U.N. specialist on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said in a report.

John Dugard, a South African lawyer, called the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip last summer a positive step. But the Jewish state effectively controls Gaza through targeted killings and sonic booms from warplanes flying over the region, Mr. Dugard said in a report prepared ahead of the annual meeting next week of the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, rejected Mr. Dugard’s claims as “misinformed and inaccurate.”

Mr. Dugard’s report “is guided by a clear political agenda, and bears little relation either to the facts or existing principles of international law,” Mr. Levanon said in an e-mail.

Israel has rejected Mr. Dugard’s previous reports on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute as being one-sided, noting that he has been assigned only to investigate violations by the Israeli side.

Mr. Dugard said settler violence has been particularly egregious in the West Bank city of Hebron. His 22-page report made no reference to Palestinian terrorism, but said Hebron settlers “terrorize the few Palestinians that have not left the old city and assault and traumatize children on the way to school.”

“It seems that settlers are able to terrorize Palestinians and destroy their trees and crops with impunity,” Mr. Dugard said, adding that he was a victim of settler abuse while visiting the city in June.

Mr. Dugard prepares regular reports for the U.N. human rights watchdog during visits to the region, but receives no cooperation from the Israeli government.

Mr. Dugard filed his report before Hamas won Palestinian elections in January and made no mention of the Islamic militant group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and refuses to renounce violence.

The report “ignores the fact that the Hamas, considered as a terrorist organization by the family of nations, controls the Palestinian Authority and disregards the enormous efforts done by Israel to fight this terrorism while preserving humanitarian law and human rights,” Mr. Levanon said.

Meanwhile, an official Israeli audit released Wednesday said the pullout of Jewish settlers from Gaza was mishandled because of poor preparation and lack of attention from the prime minister and other authorities, Reuters news agency reported.

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, whose role is akin to that of state auditor, criticized coordination of the pullout and the relocation of the 8,500 settlers from Gaza and four isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“There is no doubt that the evacuees suffered a great trauma in their evacuation, and in the way by which they were evacuated,” Mr. Lindenstrauss said.

The prime minister’s office denied any wrongdoing.

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