Israel postpones UNESCO visit to Jerusalem's Old City

May 21, 2013 at 5:11 AM
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JERUSALEM, May 21 (UPI) -- Israel, at the last minute, postponed the visit of a UNESCO delegation to Jerusalem's Old City, a Foreign Ministry official said.

"The delegation as a delegation has been postponed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told The Jerusalem Post. "The Palestinians violated all the agreements we had with UNESCO: that this was to be a purely professional, not a political visit."

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to host the delegation from the U.N. Educational Scientific Cultural Organization, the newspaper said.

"The visit of the UNESCO mission is a preface for the victory of Palestinian and Arab diplomacy," the Post said, quoting a statement from the Palestinian Ministry of Information in Ramallah.

In a written response to the newspaper, UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams confirmed the delegation's visit had been postponed.

The Palestinians attempted to introduce political elements into the visit and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki described the delegation as a fact-finding commission to examine Israeli steps in Jerusalem, an unnamed Israeli diplomatic official told the Post.

The Palestinian Authority insisted on taking the delegation to the Temple Mount and to meet with Palestinian political officials, not just engineers, architects and similar professionals, the official said.

The move violates the understanding reached in April with UNESCO over the nature of the visit, which is aimed at inspecting conservation and preservation efforts in the Old City, the official said.

The Post reported Monday UNESCO experts had arrived in Israel. Israel agreed to the visit in exchange for the Palestinians' agreement to postpone five anti-Israeli resolutions pending before the organization's executive board.

The resolutions dealt with the Temple Mount, the Mughrabi Bridge that leads from the Western Wall to the Temple Mount, Hebron, Gaza and Bethlehem, the newspaper said. The bridge has been the subject of contention ever since the original ramp collapsed in a 2004 snowstorm and repair on the bridge in 2007 led to rioting by Muslims in Jordan and Jerusalem. It was agreed that the delegation wouldn't visit the Temple Mount or deal with the Mughrabi Bridge.

In 2011, the U.N. body accepted Palestine as a member, a move that angered Jerusalem and Washington.

Jerusalem's Old City was added to the list of World Heritage sites in 1981 and a year later was placed on a list of "endangered" World Heritage sites.

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