The Israeli government's settlement policy has clearly violated the rights of Palestinians and breaches one of the Geneva Conventions, a UN report says.
The United Nations' first report on the broad policy of Israeli settlements called on Tel Aviv to halt the practice of "creeping annexation".
Israel hit back, accusing the body of bias.
In its report to the 47-nation Human Rights Council, a panel of investigators said Israel is violating international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the treaties that establish the ground rules for what is considered humane during wartime.
The Israeli government has persisted in settling Palestinian-occupied territories, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank, "despite all the pertinent United Nations resolutions declaring that the existence of the settlements is illegal and calling for their cessation," the report said.
The settlements are "a mesh of construction and infrastructure 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 concludes.
French judge Christine Chanet, who led the panel, said Israel did not co-operate with the probe, which the council ordered last March. At a news conference, she called the report "a kind of weapon for the Palestinians" if they want to take up their grievances before The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Another panel member, Pakistani lawyer Asma Janangir, said the settlements "seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people," an offense under international humanitarian law.
The panel's report was condemned by Israel, whose foreign ministry accused the council of taking a systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel, with the report being merely "another unfortunate reminder" of that bias.
"The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions," the ministry said. "Counter-productive measures - such as the report before us - will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict."
www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/ (UN Human Rights Council)