Israeli settlers have taken over dozens of natural springs in the West Bank, limiting or preventing Palestinian access to much-needed water sources, a United Nations report said on Monday.
The report produced by the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 30 springs across the West Bank had been completely taken over by settlers, with Palestinians unable to access them at all.
In most instances, the report said, "Palestinians have been deterred from accessing the springs by acts of intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers."
The report said an OCHA survey carried out in 2011 identified a total of 56 springs that were under total or partial control of Israeli settlers, most in the part of the West Bank known as Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and military control.
"Springs have remained the single largest water source for irrigation and a significant source for watering livestock" for Palestinians, OCHA said, noting that some springs also provide water for domestic consumption.
"The loss of access to springs and adjacent land reduced the income of affected farmers, who either stop cultivating the land or face a reduction in the productivity of their crops."
The report said in most cases where settlers were trying to limit Palestinian access to springs, they have undertaken to turn the area into a tourist attraction, constructing pools, picnic areas and signs carrying a Hebrew name for the spring.
"Such works were carried out without building permits," the report said.
OCHA said the takeover of springs was an extension of settlement activity in the West Bank, which it pointed out is illegal under international law.
And it added that settler actions including "trespass, intimidation and physical assault, stealing of private property, and construction without a building permit," are also violations of Israeli law.
"Yet, the Israel authorities have systematically failed to enforce the law on those responsible for these acts and to provide Palestinians with any effective remedy," it said.
OCHA called on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements, "restore Palestinian access to the water springs taken over by settlers," and to "conduct effective investigations into cases of settler violence and trespass."