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Israel angered as UNESCO adopts resolution on Jerusalem holy site

Tourists pray at the Western wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, on October 14 in Jerusalem's Old City. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Paris, France Oct 18, 2016, 08.51 PM (IST)

The UNESCO on Tuesday adopted a resolution condemning Israel for restricting Muslims' access to East Jerusalem's historic Al Aqsa mosque compound --- considered holy by both Jews and Muslims. It also condemns Israel's blockade of Gaza and "constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers" in the West Bank.

The resolution, which throughout refers to Israel as "the occupying power," angered the Jewish state which suspended cooperation with the cultural body after the resolution was approved last week.

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen, accused the Palestinians of playing "games" on Tuesday."This is the wrong place to solve problems between countries or people," he told AFP.

UNESCO, which is responsible for protecting important heritage sites, is one of few international organisations that recognises Palestine as a member state. The body has been involved in numerous diplomatic spats with Israel ever since Palestine's admission in 2011.

The controversial resolution refers to the holy site by its Muslim name, Al-Aqsa or Al-Haram al-Sharif, making no making no mention of Temple Mount, the Jewish name for the place of worship. The mosque is considered Islam's third holiest site and the holiest site in Judaism.

Even though the resolution recognises the importance of the Old City for "the three monotheistic religions" --- Islam, Judaism and Christianity --- it focuses on Israeli restrictions on Muslims accessing the mosque, AFP reported. It also criticises damage by security forces to the site and nearby excavations.

Israel's envoy to UNESCO defended the Jewish state's suspension of its cooperation with the organisation as a "proportional reaction" to the resolution passed on Tuesday. "I hope it will not last long," Shama Hacohen told AFP on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that saying "Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and Western Wall is like saying China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or Egypt has no connection to the pyramids".

Palestine welcomes decision

Deputy Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, Mounir Anastas, welcomed the decision on Tuesday.

"This resolution reminds Israel that they are the occupying power in east Jerusalem, and it asks them to stop all their violations, especially in the fields of competence of UNESCO such as the excavations," he told the press.

Unease in UNESCO

The text of the resolution created unease in the cultural body, with executive board chairman Michael Worbs saying he would have liked more time to work out a compromise.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova also distanced herself from the resolutions, saying in a statement that "nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space."

The resolution was adopted by  24 votes in favour and six against with 26 abstentions and two absentees.

Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community, declaring the whole city its indivisible capital.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital while the Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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