Israel in UNESCO row about Jerusalem, as UN to discuss settlements

Israel's education minister on Friday ordered the suspension of "all professional activities" with UNESCO, after the organization moved a draft resolution the day before, which Israel says seeks to deny Jewish ties to a key Jerusalem holy site.

The UNESCO move this week comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting later in the day on Jewish settlements constructed on the occupied West Bank, a territory Palestinians demand for their future state. The UN generally sees the settlements as illegal entities.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova tried to downplay the resolution - which must still be approved next week by her organization's executive board - saying Jerusalem's history as a city special to Christians, Muslims and Jews was part of its heritage value.

"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," Bokova said.

Nafteli Bennett, a hardline nationalist Israeli education minister who is a staunch supporter of settlements, said the decision by the UN body "provides immediate support to Islamist terror."

The resolution's language, which is sharply critical of the Israeli government for its control mechanisms at the holy sites and excavation projects in East Jerusalem, refers to these places primarily by their Islamic names and largely ignored Jewish terms.

Angering Jewish Israelis in particular, the site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary was not regarded as being sacred in Judaism. The document also failed to acknowledge that Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Israel's government views the approval of the draft resolution by a UNESCO committee as a political decision and one that ignores history and archaeology.

The draft affirms "the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions" but says the resolution is aimed at protecting Palestinian heritage.

There is global concern about Israel's policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories occupied in the 1967 regional war. A recent decision to expand settlements drew sharp condemnation from the United States, Israel's main backer.

Also Friday, Japan said it was withholding financial contributions to UNESCO to express its outrage with the UN cultural body for listing Chinese documents relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in its "Memory of the World" programme, according to local media.

Last update: Fri, 14/10/2016 - 14:58

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