Thursday, 4 November 2010

Israel Clashes with UNESCO in Row over Holy Sites

04/11/2010 Israel on Wednesday said it would reduce cooperation with the United Nations' cultural watchdog after the body classified Bilal Mosque or Masjid Al-Ibrahimi (called by Jews as Rachel's Tomb) in the West Bank as a mosque.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would not cooperate with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - in administering five protected sites in Palestinian territory as a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks came to a head.

The ancient Mosque, which lies between Jerusalem and the nearby Palestinian city of Bethlehem, is traditionally regarded as the burial place of a biblical matriarch and is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Speaking with journalists in occupied Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Palestinians for influencing the UN to side against Israel. "This is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority," he said.

Ayalon's spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether - but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement.

UNESCO had become a "rubber stamp" for the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, Ayalon added: "Decisions like this take us farther away from peace and understanding between our two nations."

Israel's boycott follows an angry statement last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemning UNESCO's ruling on the ‘tomb’.

"The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd," the statement said. "If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?"

In its biannual session which ended last week, UNESCO adopted five proposals initiated by Arab member states regarding Jewish and Muslim holy sites.

UNESCO's board voted 44 to one, with 12 abstentions, to reaffirm that the site was "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law".

Israel suspends cooperation with UNESCO

[ 04/11/2010 - 11:30 AM ]

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The Israeli government decided to suspend cooperation with the UNESCO in protest over its decision that considered Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem an Islamic mosque and heritage.

A statement by the office of Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, said that Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO until its decision was reversed.

The UNESCO passed a majority vote considering Bilal and Ibrahimi mosques in Bethlehem and Al-Khalil respectively as Islamic places of worship and not Jewish as claimed by Israel.

The UNESCO last February criticized Israel for annexing the Ibrahimi and Bilal mosques to the list of Jewish heritage sites.

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