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World News in Brief: Israeli settlement plan condemned, abductions in northern Nigeria, alarm over reported pre-election attacks in India

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In a statement, Tor Wennesland reminded that all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal under international law.

Permits for the new dwellings were approved by Israeli authorities on Wednesday, the first since the war in Gaza erupted on 7 October.

According to news reports, the permits mean that more than 20,000 housing units have been approved in illegal settlements during the past year.

“Israel’s settlement expansion continues to be a driver of conflict in the occupied West Bank further entrenching the occupation and undermining the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independent statehood,” said Mr. Wennesland.

West Bank casualties

Since October, 416 Palestinians have been killed and 4,658 injured, including 718 children, in conflict-related incidents across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, according to the latest figures released by UN aid coordination office OCHA.

Since the beginning of the year, a total of 101 Palestinians have been killed, compared to 71 in the same period in 2023, the majority by Israeli forces. 

Since 7 October, 15 Israelis, including four members of Israeli forces, have been killed and 90 injured in conflict-related incidents in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.

Mass abductions in Nigeria condemned

The UN’s top aid official in Nigeria has condemned the reported abduction of more than 200 people in the country’s northeast.

Mohamed Malick Fall said in a statement on Wednesday that a non-State armed group was alleged to have abducted the people from camps for the internally displaced in Borno state.

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The victims had reportedly ventured beyond the safety of the trenches surrounding the town of Ngala in search of firewood.

It is extremely dangerous to do so, with killings, abductions, forced recruitment and sexual and gender-based violence rampant, humanitarians warned.

In a statement, Mr. Fall noted that some older women and children under age 10 had been released, but scores remain unaccounted for.

The senior aid official also said that he stood in solidarity with the families of all those abducted and called for their release.

Some two million people have fled to towns for safety in Nigeria’s Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, after well over a decade of armed conflict that has left many areas beyond government control.

Schoolchildren abducted

On Thursday, more than 100 Nigerian schoolchildren were abducted in the northwestern Nigerian town of Kuriga, according to news reports.

The students, aged eight to 15, were reportedly rounded up along with a teacher after gunmen riding motorbikes entered their school assembly area.

Eyewitnesses reported that one pupil was shot during the kidnap raid. The incident is not believed to have any connection with the apparent kidnap of women and children earlier in the week in the northeast.

India: Rights experts sound alarm over pre-election attacks against minorities 

Independent UN human rights experts on Thursday sounded the alarm over reports of attacks on minorities, media workers and civil society activists in India, calling on authorities to take action as the country prepares to go to the polls in April.

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts voiced concern that the situation is likely to worsen in the coming months ahead of national elections.

They cited reports of “dehumanising rhetoric”, incitement to discrimination and violence, violence by vigilante groups, targeted demolitions, enforced disappearances and detention of rights defenders and journalists. 

“We call on India to implement its human rights obligations fully and set a positive example by reversing the erosion of human rights and addressing recurring concerns raised by UN human rights mechanisms,” the experts said.

They noted that out of 78 communications sent by UN human rights experts over the past five years, only 18 had received replies from the government that could be made public. 

The experts also regretted that despite India’s standing invitation to UN Special Procedures since 2011, there have been no country visits since 2017, with 15 active pending requests by UN human rights experts to which there has been no reply.

Take ‘concrete measures’

They urged India to take concrete measures to address concerns raised in their previous communications and reports.

“In light of continuing reports of violence and attacks against religious, racial and ethnic minorities, and other grave human rights issues, and the apparent lack of response by authorities to concerns raised, we are compelled to express our grave concern, especially given the need for a conducive atmosphere for free and fair elections in accordance with the early warning aspect of our mandates,” they said.

Special Rapporteurs and other independent rights experts are not UN staff, do not receive a salary for their work and are independent of any government or organisation.

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