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UNESCO approves resolution on Jerusalem

October 26, 2016

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has approved a controversial resolution on the conservation status of a key holy site in Jerusalem. The decision has angered Israel and its allies.

Israel Jerusalem Klagemauer Gemischte Gebetszone
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Hollander

The resolution, which passed in a secret ballot on Wednesday, criticizes Israel for its refusal to let UNESCO experts access Jerusalem's holy sites.

The text refers specifically to "aggressions by the Israeli Occupation Authorities" over restrictions imposed at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound - Islam's third holiest site. The site is also considered the holiest site in Judaism, and is known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The UNESCO document calls the mosque only by its Muslim name and urges Israel to stop excavations under Jerusalem's Old City, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1981.

The resolution was submitted to the 21-country World Heritage Committee by Kuwait, Lebanon and Tunisia on behalf of Jordan and Palestine. Ten countries voted in favor of the decision, while two were against and eight abstained. One member was absent. 

Jerusalem Old City
The Dome of the Rock lies in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple MountImage: Getty Images/AFP/M.Kahana

Israel furious

Responding to the document's criticisms of Israel, Tel Aviv's ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama, described the resolution as "absurd." He said it ignored Judaism's deep connection to the holy city and was "against the Jewish people, against historical truth."

The "resolution paper is not even worth the energy needed to tear it to shreds," he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah announced he would recall the country's ambassador to UNESCO "for consultation." 

Palestinians, meanwhile, welcomed the move. "Contrary to what the Israeli government claims, the resolution ... aims at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It calls for respecting the status quo of its religious sites," Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), said.

The reaction echoes protest over a resolution adopted last weekby UNESCO's executive board, which Israel said largely ignored Jewish terms for holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel argues such decisions are evidence of anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are outnumbered by Arab countries.

nm/sms (AP, dpa)