US, Israel condemn new UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem

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Posted: Oct 26, 2016 11:41 AM
US, Israel condemn new UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem

PARIS (AP) — UNESCO's World Heritage Committee on Wednesday approved a new resolution on the status of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem, infuriating Israel which says the document's wording denies Judaism's deep ties to the holy site Temple Mount. The move also drew an angry condemnation from the United States, which called it "inflammatory."

In Wednesday's secret ballot, the U.N. cultural body agreed to retain the site on the list of endangered world heritage and criticized Israel for its continuous 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 called 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.

In a statement, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. cultural body, Carmel Shama-HaCohen, called the resolution "absurd."

"You have just adopted yet another absurd resolution against the State of Israel, against the Jewish people, against historical truth, and one which stands in complete and utter contradiction to all values, which this disintegrating organization is supposed to stand for," he said.

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 said in a statement to The Associated Press.

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.

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple Mount. 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.

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.

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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AP writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to the story