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UNESCO adopts new resolution critical of Israel, another expected Friday

Tens of thousands of Palestinians attend the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound on June 2, 2017

Israel has roundly condemned the latest UNESCO resolution condemning Israel's control of Jerusalem's Old City, which came during a landmark meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Poland. 

The resolution, which caused similar uproar last year when the language of the text referred to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic names, was much softer this time around, the Times of Israel reported.

The resolution, formally sponsored by Jordan and enthusiastically pushed by the Palestinian Authority, "regrets the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law," according to the text quoted by the Israeli news website.

It was reported that the vote passed ten to three, with a further three abstentions. 

Some of the softer language includes the new acknowledgement of “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” although it still referred to the Temple Mount as only a "Muslim place of worship," according to the Times of Israel report. 

The official Israeli response branded the adoption of the resolution as "unrealistic and irrelevant" and said UNESCO "serves the enemies of history and truth".

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also the head of Israel's UNESCO committee, said that the organisation is acting against "the only Middle Eastern country safeguarding all holy sites and granting worshippers religious freedom". 

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee meets yearly to assess the status of the 99 sites that are already World Heritage areas, and examine those that are considered to be "in danger", according to the committee's website.

This year's forum in Krakow was opened by the Polish President and is expected to vote on Friday on another resolution about Israeli conduct in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. 

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley sent a letter to two senior UN officials on Friday asking them to oppose the UNESCO proposal to place the Old City of Hebron on the “World Heritage Site in Danger,” denoting it as being in the "State of Palestine."

The World Heritage Committee of the UN's scientific and cultural body is currently meeting in Krakow, Poland, and is expected to vote on the issue on Friday.

In the letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, Haley declares that the Tomb of the Patriarchs is "sacred to three faiths" and that the timing of the proposal is "ill-timed and unfortunate," coming as the United States is trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together for a peace deal.

Haley adds that there are many heritage sites around the world "under real and imminent threat of destruction" and that these should be protected instead of UNESCO's attention being "wasted" on the "symbolic action" on Hebron.


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