UK Foreign Secretary William Hague launched, Thursday, the Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013 at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, said a press release issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.“The human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) continued to be of serious concern in 2013, with the trends of 2012 largely unchanged,” stated the report in the section devoted to Israel and the OPTs as an area of concern, according to WAFA.

The report added: “The UK principal concerns related to continued violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by Israel in the context of its occupation of the OPTs. We also continued to have concerns about breaches of human rights in Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled parts of the West Bank and, particularly, under de facto Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. The humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorated as a result of continued restrictions on movement of goods and people, combined with Egyptian closures of illegal smuggling tunnels.”

The report also stated: “Our priorities for 2013 included a large-scale international push, under US leadership, to restart final status negotiations, lobbying Israel to re-engage with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, as well as a focus on: the treatment of Palestinian detainees, including children, in Israeli prisons; settlement expansion, incitement to violence, evictions and forced transfer of Palestinian communities; consolidation of the ceasefire in Gaza; and an easing of Israeli restrictions.”

It added: “There has been some positive progress: peace talks resumed; Israel re-engaged with the UNHRC and UPR; the ceasefire in Gaza has largely held; and there has been some improvement on child detainees. However, there have been surges in settlement expansion; increases in the number of West Bank Palestinians and Israelis killed; an increase in demolitions of Palestinian property; and no real progress on easing of Israeli restrictions.”

“In 2014, the UK will continue to support the US-led push for a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will also continue to seek improvements in the treatment of Palestinian detainees, notably children, press for the cessation of demolitions and evictions, and encourage prosecutions of violent Israeli settlers.”

“In addition, we will continue to lobby against the excessive use of force by the Israel ‘Defense’ Forces, and for the easing of Israeli restrictions on movement and access. We will encourage improvement in the PA’s public accountability with respect to investigations and action taken in response to allegations of human rights abuses, and concrete progress on preventing violence against women” added the report.

In related news, WAFA also reports that British Deputy Consul General Benjamin Saoul and Head of DFID Jonathan Hargreaves visited the city of Bethlehem, on Thursday, accompanied by a team from the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, according to the official website of the UK government.

They first met with the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, where they discussed the current political, economic and social developments in the city and explored future opportunities to further strengthen the strategic ties between the UK and Bethlehem.

The Consulate team also visited the Oasis Workshop for People with Special Needs. They toured the center and talked to some of the workers with special needs to find out more about the center’s work. The center provides adults with special needs job opportunities in recycled paper production and craft making. The Consulate provided the workshop this year with a label printer which the center now uses to label their products.

At the end of the visit, the Deputy Consul General said:

“I was delighted to meet the Mayor of Bethlehem this morning. Support for the Bethlehem municipality is also support for democracy, for women leaders in Palestine, and for a beautiful and important city. Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s historic visit to Bethlehem last month, I look forward to Britain strengthening its links with the city in the coming months.”

“I was also pleased to visit the Oasis center for disabled people. I am proud that Britain is supporting the center, which creates opportunities for disabled people in the Bethlehem area. It is vital that disabled people across Palestine be given the chance to fulfill their potential. The Palestinian Authority must play a full part in supporting them, living up to international standards and ensuring that their rights are respected in full,” he concluded.