Geneva: The building of Israeli colonies and attacks by colonists on Palestinians are a major source of much abuse of rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, the United Nations’ top human rights official said on Monday.

Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay also expressed concern at a recent surge in violence in and around the Gaza Strip by both local groups and Israeli forces.

“Israeli [colony]-related activities and [colonist] violence are at the core of many of the violations of human rights in the West Bank, including [occupied] East Jerusalem,” she told the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The colonies not only had a significant impact on the right to Palestinian self-determination, but activities around them “also violate the entire spectrum of Palestinians’ social, cultural, civil and political rights,” she said.

“Despite repeated calls for Israel to cease [colonial] activity, ongoing [colony] construction and acts of [colonist] violence continue with devastating consequences for Palestinian civilians,” said Pillay, a former judge of the International Criminal Court.

Most countries deem Israeli colonies in the West Bank illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking. Palestinians decry them as a barrier to achieving a viable state, the while the Israelis consider some of their colonies as a security buffer.

Colonists view the West Bank as a biblical birthright.

The Israelis withdrew their troops and colonists from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas — an Islamist group which rejects the Israeli regime — seized control of the territory two years later, fuelling tension which often leads to cross-border violence.

The Gaza violence, Pillay declared, was reflected in increased rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups directed at the Israelis and Israeli air strikes on the area.

She said “the targeting of civilians and the indiscriminate firing of rockets towards Israel is a violation of international law. The response through air strikes by Israel is excessive and often causes destruction to personal and public property.”

Pillay said an Israeli blockade of Gaza must be lifted, “with due regard to Israeli security concerns.” Egypt also blockades Gaza from its side of the border.

Referring to the West Bank administered by the Palestinian Authority, she said UN monitors there had documented “a dramatic increase in fatalities and injuries in incidents of use of force by Israeli security forces” in 2013.

There was an urgent need to ensure accountability for such incidents through independent investigations into allegations of unlawful killings or torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute those responsible, Pillay said.

The Israeli foreign ministry has been on strike since Sunday. Other officials had no immediate response to Pillay’s remarks.