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UNESCO vets Bethlehem

June 24, 2012

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO has opened its annual conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, facing a contested Palestinian bid to get recognition for Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

An ornate cross, backdropped by the Church of Nativity's roofline
Geburtskirche BethlehemImage: dapd

The application for one of Christianity's holiest sites - among 33 sites seeking approval - was put on the two-week conference's agenda despite a negative evaluation by the United Nation's Council on Monuments and Sites.

A report by council assessors issued last week said that Palestinian authorities had failed to make a full archeological preservation survey of the building that was erected over the presumed birthplace of Jesus in the 4th century.

Officials for the Palestinian Authority, which obtained admission to the UN's education, scientific and cultural agency in a 107-14 vote last October, accuse Israel and its ally the United States of applying influence to obtain a "biased" report on Bethlehem's major tourist attraction.

Palestinian negotiations with Israel on terms for an internationally recognized future state of Palestine have been frozen since 2008.

The other 32 sites up for Heritage Committee recognition in St. Petersburg include the Moroccan capital, Rabat; Sangha National Park, which borders Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic; Schwetzingen, a palace and garden complex in southern Germany; and Italy's hilly Piemont wine region.

The committee, which is made up of representatives from 21 UNESCO members, also has powers to grant subsidies for repairs of heritage sites and to issue warnings for breaches of criteria.

In early June, UNESCO expressed grave concern about Australia's Great Barrier Reef, saying an expansion of coal and gas shipping and coastal infrastructure were endangering the listed World Heritage Area, especially its corals.

Officials for the reef's home state, Queensland, rejected that UNESCO report, but Australia's federal government later announced the creation of a maritime park network around the continent to protect ocean life, with limits on fishing, and oil and gas exploration.

Wadden Sea - Relaxing in tune with nature

Currently, 936 sites in 153 countries have a World Heritage listing. Of these, 36 are in Germany, including Cologne Cathedral and the Wadden Sea estuarine wetlands along Germany's northern coast. Another, the Elbe River Valley at Dresden lost its UNESCO status in 2009 because of a bridge project.

ipj/tj (dpa, AFP, AP, dapd)