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U.N. rights envoy likens Israeli actions to apartheid

GENEVA (Reuters) - A United Nations human rights envoy on Thursday likened Israeli treatment of Palestinians in occupied territory to apartheid, and said its settlement policy amounted to colonialism.

Palestinians attend a Hamas rally at Rafah camp in the southern Gaza strip March 21, 2007. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

South African lawyer John Dugard warned Western states they would never rally support among developing nations for effective action against perceived abuses in Sudan’s Darfur, Zimbabwe and Myanmar unless they tackled the plight of Palestinians.

“This places in danger the whole international human rights enterprise,” he told the Council, a Geneva-based watchdog.

Dugard, special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said restrictions on movement and separate residential areas gave a sense of “deja vu” to anyone with experience of apartheid.

“Of course there are similarities between the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory) and apartheid South Africa,” he told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

But Israel, which Dugard has regularly confronted since taking up his appointment in 2001, dismissed the statement and his regular report to the Council as “one-sided, highly selective and unreservedly biased”.

“The resort to inflammatory and inciteful language does nothing to contribute to the process of constructive dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon.

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Dugard said Gaza was an imprisoned society, with the situation in the West Bank little better.

“Settlers, largely unrestrained by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), subject many Palestinians to a reign of terror -- particularly in Hebron,” he said.

He said some 500,000 Israeli settlers were now living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.

“Apartheid and colonialism are contrary to international law,” he said.