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Israel

UNESCO formally approves controversial resolution on east Jerusalem

Despite protests from the Jewish state, the UN cultural agency has adopted a resolution condemning the way Israel deals with a key holy site in east Jerusalem. The document was drafted by Arab countries.

UNESCO's executive board has officially endorsed a controversial resolution surrounding a key holy site in east Jerusalem.

The text of the resolution, drafted by seven Arab countries - Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan - sharply criticizes Israel for restricting Muslim access to Islam's third holiest site, known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. It also condemns nearby excavation projects.

Although the resolution does acknowledge that the Old City is important to "the three monotheistic religions," Islam, Judaism and Christianity, it refers to the holy site using its Muslim names, Al-Aqsa or al-Haram al-Sharif.

Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

People walk on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount (Reuters/A. Awad)

Jews call it the Temple Mount; Muslims refer to it as their Noble Sanctuary, the Al-Aqsa Mosque

Contested space

The east Jerusalem site covers 14 hectares (35 acres) in the southeast corner of the Old City. It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, though its annexation was never internationally recognized.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, but Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.

Throughout the UNESCO document, Israel is also described as "the occupying power." The text also includes condemnation of Israel's blockade of Gaza and "constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers" in the West Bank.

Diplomatic 'games'

When the resolution was voted on last Thursday at the committee stage, it obtained 24 votes in favor, six against and 26 abstentions. In Tuesday's final vote, Mexico changed its in-favor vote to an abstention.

Israel suspended its cooperation with UNESCO last week in reaction to the draft resolution. Its ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen, accused the Palestinians of "playing games."

"This is the wrong place to solve problems between countries or people," he said on Tuesday.

Palestine was admitted to UNESCO in 2011. There have since been different diplomatic disagreements resulting from resolutions condemning Israel.

Meanwhile, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova has also distanced herself from the resolution, saying that "nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space," she said.

Watch video 02:03

Restoration of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem underway

eg/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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