A United Nations envoy criticised Israel Saturday for demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, calling the practice a violation of a six-month-old moratorium and a setback to peacemaking efforts, Reuters reported.
Israel, which took the West Bank in a 1967 war, has often demolished dwellings built there without its permission. After a Palestinian revolt erupted in 2000, Israel also razed the homes of militants but abandoned this tactic five years later.
Robert Serry, U.N. Middle East envoy, said in a statement that Israel undertook in April to suspend demolitions but recently resumed them.
An Israeli official denied there had been any moratorium.
Serry's statement deplored "the impact of these actions on some of the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank, with many poor families rendered destitute."
The demolitions, Serry said, "send a discouraging signal regarding its (Israel's) support for the strenuous and concerted effort under way to improve conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory and build greater trust and confidence in support for the political process."
The United Nations and other international powers have stepped up efforts to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since he broke with Islamist Hamas rivals last year and revived peacemaking with Israel.
Serry did not cite any specific demolition, but an Israeli defence official said he appeared to be referring to the demolition Wednesday of five Palestinian homes near Hebron.
The official described those dwellings as "shanties" and said their location, close to a road used by Israelis, raised concern they could be used as to stage attacks.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, rebuffed Serry's criticism.
"There was no public commitment by Israel to any moratorium on house demolitions," he said. "The fact that the U.N. addresses a generalised criticism on the demolition of houses built illegally on public land is most unhelpful."