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Israel suspends cooperation with Unesco over Jerusalem draft

15 October 2016, 17:39

Jerusalem — Israel suspended cooperation with Unesco on Friday, a day after the UN cultural agency adopted a draft resolution that Israel says denies the deep, historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Unesco's draft resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, which includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray. The validated resolution is expected early next week, but the wording is unlikely to change.

Israelis and many Jews around the world viewed it as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett informed Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova of Israel's decision on Friday.

"Following the shameful decision by Unesco members to deny history and ignore thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, I have notified the Israel National Commission for Unesco to suspend all professional activities with the international organisation," Bennett said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, with sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians claim the territory as part of their future state, and its fate is a central dispute

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is home to 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 heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city," Bokova, the head of Unesco, said in a statement.

"To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the Unesco World Heritage list."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's government in the West Bank welcomed the resolution, as did Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. A spokesperson for Hamas, which is pledged to Israel's destruction, called it a "step in the right direction".

The dispute over Jerusalem's holiest site ignited a wave of violence this time last year. Since then Palestinian attackers have killed 36 Israelis and two visiting Americans, mainly in stabbings. About 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, most of them identified as attackers by Israel. The Palestinians and rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force.

Israel has blamed the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders, compounded on social media sites that glorify violence. The Palestinians say it is rooted in some 50 years of military rule and fading hopes for independence.

- AP


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