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US, Israel Decry UNESCO Resolution on Jerusalem

  • Associated Press

A general view of Jerusalem's Old City shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, Oct. 25, 2015.

A general view of Jerusalem's Old City shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, Oct. 25, 2015.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee on Wednesday approved a new resolution on the status of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem that drew angry accusations from Israel that the document denies Judaism's deep ties to the site. The United States decried the resolution as "inflammatory.''

In Wednesday's secret ballot, the U.N. cultural body agreed to retain the walled area, home to key Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, on the list of endangered world heritage locations. It also highlighted Israel's continued refusal to let the body's experts access Jerusalem's holy sites to determine their conservation status.

More controversially, the document refers to the Jerusalem site that Jews call the Temple Mount only by its Arab name — a significant semantic decision also adopted by UNESCO's Executive Board last week, when it was condemned by Israel and its allies. The site is revered by Jews and Muslims.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the "absurdity" of Wednesday's decision and said he would recall his ambassador to UNESCO for consultations on how to proceed.

Harm to 'U.N. itself'

The decision "harms not only the historical truth and the truth of the present, but also harms, in my opinion, the U.N. itself," he said.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel "will not cooperate with an organization denying the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem."

Israel suspended ties with UNESCO earlier this month over a similar resolution.

U.S. Ambassador Crystal Nix Hines said the UNESCO resolutions on Jerusalem were "continuously one-sided and inflammatory."

"This item should have been defeated, ... These politicized and one-sided resolutions are damaging the credibility of UNESCO,'' Nix Hines told The Associated Press.

FILE - Christians hold candles during the Palm Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's Old City, April 24, 2016.

FILE - Christians hold candles during the Palm Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's Old City, April 24, 2016.

But Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Wednesday's UNESCO vote aimed to reaffirm the importance of Jerusalem for Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

"It calls for respecting the status quo of its religious sites, including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that continues to be threatened by the systematic incitement and provocative actions of the Israeli government and extremist Jewish groups,'' Erekat said.

Old City

The Old City, home to sensitive holy sites, lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is situated in East Jerusalem — the area of the holy city captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital, while Israel has annexed the area and made it part of its capital.

While Israel controls the area, its annexation is not internationally recognized. Although Israel says it protects sites holy to all religions, the Palestinians have accused Israel of trying to "Judaize" the Old City through archaeological digs and tourism projects.

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple Mount, the site where the ancient temples were located. Muslims refer to it as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, and it includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

FILE - Israeli police check the papers of a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem's Old City, Oct. 8, 2015.

FILE - Israeli police check the papers of a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem's Old City, Oct. 8, 2015.

The resolution was passed by the World Heritage Committee's 21 member countries. Ten countries voted for, two against, eight abstained and one was absent. Neither Israel, the U.S. nor Palestine is on the World Heritage Committee.

'Technical' approach

Makram Queisi, Jordan's ambassador to UNESCO, said the heritage committee was trying to tackle the issue from a "technical point of view," even as many parties were politicizing it.

"Jerusalem is a site listed on the World Heritage list, and this is the place where this site has to be discussed because the Israeli government after the occupation has changed many aspects on the ground," he said.

The resolution is the latest of several measures at UNESCO over decades that Israelis see as evidence of ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

UNESCO's World Heritage Site list is known throughout the world for its work in highlighting sites of historic and cultural significance and endangered global heritage.

Israel had already suspended its funding to UNESCO when Palestinian membership was approved, along with the United States, which used to provide 22 percent of the agency's budget.

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