Israel's intention to expel four Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to the West Bank could constitute a war crime, a UN human rights expert charged on Tuesday.
Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the move was part of a Israeli push to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
"These actions, if carried out, would violate international law, with certain actions potentially amounting to war crimes under international humanitarian law," Falk said in a statement.
"Forcibly transferring these individuals would constitute serious violations of Israel's legal obligations. At the same time, the current threats should be viewed as part of a larger, extremely worrying pattern of Israeli efforts to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem - all of which are illegal under international law," Falk said.
All four are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and long-time residents of the city, Falk said. But all are also members of Hamas, which has pledged to destroy Israel and is viewed by Israel and the West as a terrorist group.
On September 6, the Israeli High Court of Justice is scheduled to consider their case, according to Falk.
He named them as Muhammad Abu-Teir, Ahmad Attoun, Muhammad Totah and Khaled Abu Arafeh. Araheh is a former Hamas cabinet minister and the other three were lawmakers elected in 2006.
"Israel, as an occupying power, is prohibited from transferring civilian persons from East Jerusalem and is prohibited from forcing Palestinians to swear allegiance or otherwise affirm their loyalty to the State of Israel," he said.
Falk also criticized Israel's plan to demolish some 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, calling it illegal and saying it reflected its systematic bid to drive Palestinians out of the holy city.
A local planning commission has approved a scheme to destroy the homes, as part of the King's Garden project, but it will need additional ratification which could take months, Israeli officials have said.
City spokesman Stephan Miller has said the project was intended "to improve the quality of life" in Silwan and that a park and public complex slated to be built in the area would be used by Arabs and Jews alike.
"International law does not allow Israel to bulldoze Palestinians homes to make space for the Mayor's project to build a garden, or anything else," said Falk.
Israel drew U.S. anger in March, when it announced during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden a plan to build 1,600 homes for Jews in an area of the occupied West Bank it considers part of Jerusalem. Israel assured Washington building at the Ramat Shlomo settlement site would not begin for at least two years.
In December 2008, Falk, who is Jewish, was detained and turned back from Israel while trying to carry out an official UN mission to Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The deportation was denounced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He has served in the independent post since May 2008, reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. Critics say that the 47-member state forum unfairly singles out Israeli violations.
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